Remain vote in North could trigger reunification poll - Martin

Fianna Fáil leader endorses North-South talks on Britain’s vote to leave the EU

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal. Photograph: North West Newspix

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal. Photograph: North West Newspix

 

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has endorsed the proposal of a North-South dialogue to discuss the responses to the British decision to leave the EU.

The idea was resurrected by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny last week, following a public rebuff from the North’s First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Delivering the annual John Hume lecture at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, Mr Martin said such a forum would be an “opportunity to reach out to excluded groups, to show that a broader range of interests than those articulated by the dominant political parties can be heard.”

Earlier, Mr Martin told journalists that the Government should lead a “civil dialogue” with stakeholder groups from North and South, including farmers, business organisations and civil society groups.

An initial plenary session, he said, should be followed by a series of meetings around the country.

DUP not vital

Mr Martin insisted that it was possible to go ahead with the dialogue without the DUP.

He played down the result of opinion polls in two Sunday newspapers which showed gains for Fianna Fáil.

“I don’t mean to be rude to the pollsters, or dismissive,” he said.

“But just I don’t bother – I mean, the polls are a distraction to me. I was very strongly of the view that the polls were wrong before the last election . . . I’m equally dismissive of the polls post the election.

“In this particular period, they’re pretty meaningless. They don’t tell me a whole lot, really.”

He also dismissed suggestions that he would seek an early general election.

“It’s just not thinkable that you would be even contemplating an election,” he said. “I think people just need to calm down.”

In his speech Mr Martin was sharply critical of the DUP and Sinn Féin.

He blamed them for “the return of openly sectarian campaigning to the mainstream” evident in last year’s election in the North.

“Sinn Féin went as far as to publish a leaflet calling for Catholics to vote for them in order to get one over on the Protestants,” he told the audience at the Highland Hotel.

Brexit threat

He said he hoped the Remain vote in the North could move support towards reunification. If so, “we should trigger a reunification referendum”.

“However at this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction, and beyond that with the rest of Europe, ” Mr Martin said.

He also used his speech to criticise pundits and commentators who, he said, misunderstood the public demand for political change and so were wrong about the outcome of the February general election.

The need for political reform in Ireland – long a familiar theme at the summer school – is not “some abstract elite idea”, Mr Martin said.

“It is founded on a broadly held demand of the Irish people that we address the clear failures of our system.”

Off-target polls

The core of his speech, however, was a strong defence of the political centre, in Europe and also in Ireland.

“The centre can hold and it can triumph over the extremes. It is possible to promote respect and co-operation in the face of even the most destructive forces,” he said.

“For Ireland to prosper, for us to rebuild levels of political trust and engagement with the public, the path of a more reflective, expert and centre-ground politics is the only credible way forward.”

The MacGill Summer School takes place all week in Glenties, with political debates and lectures every day.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny is due to address an audience later today.