Irish unity must be considered in Brexit talks, Enda Kenny says

Taoiseach says no convincing evidence people of North would vote to change status now

The possibility of Irish unity must be considered in Britain’s negotiations to leave the EU, so that both parts of a unified Ireland could be part of the EU, the Taoiseach has told a high-level British-Irish conference.

Enda Kenny said that achieving Irish unity, by purely peaceful means and by consent, is a lynchpin of the Good Friday Agreement and of the peace process.

“The possibility of unity by consent must be maintained as a valid democratic option into the future,” he told the annual meeting of the British-Irish Association in Oxford. “That means that, if there were democratic consent to Irish unity at some time in the future, there must be a mechanism to ensure that democratic decision can be implemented within the European Union, as was the case in Germany.”

The Taoiseach, who raised the prospect of a border poll shortly after the Brexit vote, said he did not believe there should be a border poll now.


“There is no convincing evidence to suggest that a majority of the people of Northern Ireland would opt for a change in its constitutional status. There are more urgent issues facing our island than a border poll,” he said.

Mr Kenny said that the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland was an all-island issue and that the Government will soon propose a mechanism to facilitate a “conversation” involving groups and individuals from North and South.

All-island dimension

The Taoiseach did not refer to an all-Ireland forum on Brexit, an idea rejected by Northern Ireland's first minister Arlene Foster, but he said there must be some way for the all-island dimension to be discussed.

“My Government strongly believes that there is a need for the widest possible conversation on the implications of the referendum result in Ireland, both North and South. It is an all-island issue. There are many organisations and individuals across the island of Ireland who are outside the political establishment but who wish to be heard on this issue. We must give them a real opportunity to participate. This need threaten no one. In fact, it is in the interest of everyone,” he said.

Addressing an audience made up of politicians, senior officials and business, academic and cultural figures from Britain and both parts of Ireland, the Taoiseach spoke of the enduring strength of the British-Irish relationship.

But he said that Ireland remained committed to the European project and warned against underestimating the difficulty Britain will face in securing a beneficial post-Brexit deal from the EU.

“The process of negotiation that will soon be embarked upon will involve a recalibration of all of the mosaic of relationships that make us what we are today. When it is complete, we will have a new set of relationships within the UK, between Britain and Ireland, between North and South on the island of Ireland, and between Britain and a 27-member EU which includes Ireland,” he said.

“No one should underestimate the commitment of the 27 EU member states to maintaining the European Union. The EU is the answer to so many historic questions for Europe. Questions that led to bloodshed 100 years ago, and questions that go to the very heart of peace and prosperity in Europe today.

“That is why nobody in Britain should think that the negotiations ahead will be easy, or that they can be viewed through a purely economic lens. For the remaining EU members, there are matters of historic and fundamental importance at stake. It will be a hard bargain to strike.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times