Pressing need for vote on Irish unity, says Sinn Féin

Britain’s Brexit agenda turns deaf ear to concerns of Northern Ireland, claims O’Neill

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said calls for an Irish Border poll were “premature” and an issue for the longer term.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said calls for an Irish Border poll were “premature” and an issue for the longer term.

 

There is an urgent need for a referendum on Irish unity as the British government has refused to listen to the majority of people in Northern Ireland over Brexit, according to Sinn Féin.

Party leader in the North Michelle O’Neill said the British government was on the verge of triggering article 50 which would take the North out of the EU against the expressed wishes of the majority of its citizens.

However, Westminster was “continuing to refuse to listen to the majority views” in Northern Ireland, she said.

Ms O’Neill said Brexit would be a disaster for the economy and people of Ireland. “To us in Sinn Féin that increases the urgency for the need of a referendum on Irish unity and that needs to happen as soon as possible.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said calls for an Irish Border poll were “premature” and an issue for the longer term.

Mr Flanagan, who is taking part in talks at Stormont on restoring powersharing, said the focus must be on getting the North’s political institutions up and running first.

“Anything else is premature, anything else is for the longer term,” he said.

He said he did not believe there was any other area that could potentially be as badly affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU as the North.

Republic and trade

Meanwhile, Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar said the Government was working towards an arrangement with the UK that would enable the State to retain free trade “as much as possible” after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar said the Government was working towards a circumstance which would mean “no Border, neither hard nor soft” on the island of Ireland. Moreover, this would also entail retention of “the common citizenship that exists between Britain and Ireland”.

The Minister said he was keen to see “that Britain remains integrated into the trade structures and at the very least we have a free trade agreement between the European Union and Britain”.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the announcement of a programme to encourage young people to take up training in the food industry. He acknowledged the export-heavy sector could be vulnerable after Britain leaves the European Union.

Food exporters, he said, would be “very, very vulnerable” in the event of a hard Brexit, which would likely mean the UK relinquish full access to the EU single market and customs union.

The programme was announced as 35 representative bodies in the UK food and drink supply chain signed an open letter calling on their government to make an early agreement on future trade with the Republic.

The open letter noted a key priority for the food and drink industry was to secure tariff-free trade with the EU, which remained Britain’s largest external market and the largest source of supplies into the country.