Martin acknowledges simple majority sufficient for poll on Irish unity

Comments come as Mary Lou McDonald says Government has obligation to plan for unity

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘The Secretary of State of the time has to make an adjudication if a referendum is merited or not and a majority then is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.’ Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘The Secretary of State of the time has to make an adjudication if a referendum is merited or not and a majority then is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.’ Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has acknowledged that the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) provides for a 50 per cent plus one majority as sufficient in any poll on Irish unity but said he believes unity of people is essential to the success of any such move.

Mr Martin said that any border poll or referendum on Irish unity as provided for by the Good Friday Agreement requires a simple majority but he stressed the importance of the need for unity of peoples in any such scenario.

“The Secretary of State of the time has to make an adjudication if a referendum is merited or not and a majority then is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement,” said Mr Martin speaking in Cork.

“My own view is that we have to work to unite the hearts and minds of Irish people living on the island, of all people, Irish and those, who are British in terms of their identity and that we learn to share this island together

“To that end we’re doing a lot of work on cross border projects such as the Ulster Canal, all island collaborations between third level colleges, north and south – I think that’s the way forward, to work with people.”

Enshrined principle

Mr Martin was speaking after Sinn Féin President, Mary Lou McDonald said the Irish Government has an obligation to plan for Irish unity and put structures in place which will allow people debate and discuss the issue.

Ms McDonald, writing in The Sunday Independent, said that an opinion in last week’s edition of the paper revealed some apprehension about proceeding with Irish unity on the basis of a simple majority, 50per cent plus one.

“Removing the principle of a simple majority for deciding the result of a unity referendum would cast aside the democratic norm of every vote being equal,” said Ms McDonald.

“A simple majority is a principle enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement and it is the established basis by which citizens have decided on important issues such as divorce, marriage equality and the Eighth Amendment.”

Meanwhile speaking at Cork City Hall, Mr Martin moved to try and reassure Ulster unionists that the Northern Ireland protocol can be tweaked in a way that doesn’t threaten their identity or links with Britain.

Unionist letter

Several unionists including David Trimble, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, have written to Mr Martin, prime minister Boris Johnson, US president Joe Biden and Maros Sefcovic of the European Commission.

In the letter, the unionist leaders call for the suspension of the Northern Ireland protocol which they say has changed the constitutional position of Northern Ireland without the consent of its people contrary to the GFA.

The letter states that unionists involved in negotiating the peace deal secured community support on the basis that the constitutional position of Northern Ireland would not be changed without their consent.

“The imposition of the Northern Ireland protocol has breached all of these core guarantees and safeguards of the agreement,” says the letter which was also signed by several leading figures in the Ulster Unionist Party

“The status of Northern Ireland is not what it was prior to the protocol taking effect, therefore it has changed, and changed without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”

“A fundamental principle of international law is respect for the territorial integrity of a country. The protocol completely disrespects the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom.

“Consequently, you are collectively guilty of exceptional anti-democratic behaviour, of breaking a fundamental principle of international law and are imperilling the very peace process you claim to want to protect and preserve.”

The Northern Ireland protocol was negotiated and implemented by Mr Johnson as an alternative to the “backstop” for avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

But Mr Martin said that negotiations were currently ongoing between the European Union and the British government which he believed could help resolve the issue to the satisfaction of unionists.

“There has to be realism attached to that [the talks between the EU and the UK] in that the protocol is there really to ensure the Good Friday Agreement in all its aspects to facilitate seamless trade on the island of Ireland.

“And for some sectors like the dairy industry it has proven very beneficial so northern farmers and milk producers can interact seamlessly with co-ops on the south and vice versa but that doesn’t get articulated a lot but it is a reality.

Mr Martin also pointed out the protocol also allowed for Foreign Direct Investment into Northern Ireland by companies wanting access to the EU Single Market while allowing Northern Ireland continued access to UK market.

“I would hope that talks between the EU and the UK will evolve into providing fine tuning and a resolution of some the issues that have arisen around the operation of the protocol but there is some distance to go before those talks would come to fruition.”