DUP considers united Ireland poll
Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party may support a poll on the North's constitutional future, a senior member has indicated.
Holding the vote would demonstrate the strength of support for the Union and validate the status quo, Democratic Unionist minister Arlene Foster said.
Sinn Féin has recently launched a renewed campaign calling for a referendum on the national question during the next Stormont Assembly term. Such an exercise is allowed for under the terms of the Belfast Agreement.
Writing in this newspaper recently, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said a poll would provide an opportunity for a historic debate on the future of the island.
Mr Adams said the economic potential of the island of Ireland has been "severely stunted" by partition.
"The additional and unnecessary costs of running two competing economies and states on an island this size; the inefficiencies in the duplication of essential public services; and a relatively small population have added significantly to the financial, political and social consequences faced by citizens," he wrote.
He said a united Ireland would provide an opportunity to build "a modern, dynamic, new Ireland – in which there is genuine reconciliation".
Ms Foster said she had held discussions with party colleagues, including leader and Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson, about calling Sinn Féin’s bluff by supporting its call for a poll on the issue.
The DUP Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment claimed a poll would expose the republican party’s “fantasy politics”.
“You know, in conversation yesterday with some senior members of my party, including the First Minister Peter Robinson, we did take a view actually that said ‘Right, let’s have this Border poll’.
“Then the fantasy politics become real politics.”
The Fermanagh and South Tyrone Assembly member said any vote would show a clear majority in favour of retaining the Union. She accused Sinn Féin of trying to destabilise the situation in Northern Ireland and claimed the result of a poll would provide stability.
“If we have a Border poll today then Sinn Féin is going to get an answer,” she told Radio Ulster. “Be careful what you wish for is what I say to Sinn Féin, because if a Border poll happens today there will be a very, very clear majority of people in Northern Ireland which will say they want to remain in the United Kingdom.”
Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement, the secretary of state can order a poll if he or she believes there is evidence indicating support for a constitutional change. The DUP Minister later stressed that the party was still in discussion on the issue and had not reached a final conclusion.
Sinn Féin’s Mitchel McLaughlin said Ms Foster’s comments opened the way for a “clear, radical and open debate” on the constitutional question.
“Sinn Féin is ready for this debate,” said the South Antrim MLA. “It is a debate that must be had if we are to manage the change that is already happening within Ireland and ensure that rights and entitlements for all are safeguarded and upheld.
“Sinn Féin’s vision is for an Ireland of equals, united and at peace with itself and its neighbours, including Britain. It is time for a dialogue on how we heal the hurt, and move into a new era.”