A timely warning from Varadkar on the 50% plus one scenario

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

In a BBC Spotlight interview tonight the Taoiseach says that he would not like to see a narrow vote in favour of Irish unity.

Leo Varadkar pointed out that the 1998 Belfast Agreement got 70% support (in fact it got a bit more than that in Northern Ireland, and far more than that in the Republic’s referendum). He said he did not anticipate such a level of vote for Irish unity. Thus, he said, we need to work with the agreement that we have – the 1998 one.

These are welcome comments from Mr Varadkar, even if he has somewhat understated the position.

It is highly unlikely that Irish unity would pass at all in the foreseeable future, and there is no possibility of 70% support for it in the coming decades.

It is true that Brexit has introduced a major unknowable with regard to the future of the Irish border and attitudes to it. This seems to be most apparent in a rise in support for unity among some voters of a nationalist background who were hitherto happy with the status quo. There has also been a very small movement within the Protestant community in favour of unity, but from a miniscule base of around 1%. But the overall movement in the polls on attitudes to the constitutional question seems so far to be small.

In recent months politicians from a range of parties in the Republic, including from Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael, have made highly unhelpful comments on a range of issues, including a border poll, that give weight both to Sinn Fein’s various short term goals and to its long term one.

They need to think about the 50% plus one scenario to which Mr Varadkar refers, because it is the only unity vote scenario that is remotely plausible, and while it is highly unlikely, it is made that bit more likely when republican grievances are given legitimacy.

Almost all unionists want good relations between the two jurisdictions, and achieving that is where everyone’s focus should be.