Coveney says calls for Border poll ‘not wise and not welcome’
Tánaiste says Brexit talks require greater intensity and realism
Simon Coveney: “We should be understanding of the sensitive juncture we’re at.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Calls for a vote on a united Ireland at this “sensitive juncture” of the Brexit negotiations, now or in the near future, are “not wise and not welcome”, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
Mr Coveney was delivering a keynote speech on the Government’s Brexit policy at the British Irish Chamber of Commerce annual networking dinner in Dublin.
The British Ambassador to Ireland, Robin Barnett, also addressed the event on the British government’s commitment to avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.
Following the referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution last weekend, Sinn Féin vice-president and leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, called for a referendum on a united Ireland.
“We can see the support for a sensible Brexit outcome in all communities in Northern Ireland, where a recent high-profile poll puts support for staying within the Single Market and Customs Union at 85 per cent,” Mr Coveney said. “But we should also be understanding of the sensitive juncture which we’re at. Calls from some quarters for a Border poll now or in the near future are not wise and not welcome.”
Mr Coveney told the attendees the Government continued to do everything in its power to ensure the relationship between Britain and Ireland would thrive following Brexit.
But he added: “We should not confuse optimism and positivity over future relations with any naivety over current talks. On the contrary – we are clear-eyed that greater intensity and realism needs to be brought to bear. And also that this needs to happen urgently.
“It is acknowledged now that the EU and UK teams have not made the headway since March that we had hoped they would,” said Mr Coveney. “In response, we have made two things very clear. Firstly, that significantly more progress must be made on the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland before the June European Council. And secondly, that there will be no final withdrawal agreement, in October or at any stage, without that backstop on avoiding a hard border.”
He said that backstop should now be the “highest priority”.
The Minister emphasised the importance of delivering on commitments already made, and “the overarching guarantee of no physical infrastructure at the Border and no associated checks or controls”.
He said progress in the negotiations since March had been too slow and that “significantly more by way of agreement is needed ahead of the June European Council”.
Mr Coveney noted that those at the dinner represented some of the 38,000 Irish companies now doing business in Britain.
He said they exemplified the mutually beneficial trading relationship Ireland and the United Kingdom enjoyed, a relationship worth more than €65 billion each year, which sustained more than 400,000 jobs across both islands.