Sinn Féin call for Irish unity poll ‘destructive’, Taoiseach says

Party argued that preparations should be made for ballot if UK leaves EU without Brexit deal

An anti-Brexit campaigner  stands outside the Westminster parliament with EU and Union Flags and a placard asking ‘Brexit: is it worth it?’. The Taoiseach said calls for a poll on Irish unity during the Brexit process were ‘disruptive’. Photograph:  Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty.

An anti-Brexit campaigner stands outside the Westminster parliament with EU and Union Flags and a placard asking ‘Brexit: is it worth it?’. The Taoiseach said calls for a poll on Irish unity during the Brexit process were ‘disruptive’. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty.

 

Sinn Féin’s call for the Government to prepare for an Irish unity poll in the event of a no deal Brexit is “destructive and disruptive” of the State’s efforts to get the withdrawal agreement ratified, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin leader, said given UK prime minister Theresa May had opted to delay a Westminster vote on the agreement, the only contingency plan the Government should be working on is to prepare for constitutional transition for the North.

Speaking during leaders’ questions in the Dáil, Ms McDonald said Mrs May had raised the prospect of Irish unity in her speech to the UK parliament. She warned the DUP that a united Ireland was a prospect if the deal was not ratified.

Ms McDonald told Mr Varadkar on Tuesday “it is imperative that you prepare for a unity poll” in order to ensure the North “will not be collateral damage for Tory Brexiteers”.

The Taoiseach said Ms McDonald’s demand was “destructive” and created obstacles for the Government’s hope that the current Brexit deal be ratified.

He said that if he did not know the Sinn Féin leader better he would suspect she wanted a no deal to benefit her party and “stir up any amount of trouble in Northern Ireland”.

Benefit

Mr Varadkar told her as he had earlier said to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that the way to avoid a no deal scenario is “for the UK to revoke Article 50 or if that is a step too far, to extend Article 50” for the benefit of the UK, Ireland and the EU.

Mr Martin put pressure on the Taoiseach over the Government’s preparations for a no deal Brexit and called on him to publish all plans for such a scenario.

He pointed to the lack of preparation by businesses in Ireland in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU and said that people should have been informed earlier about the possibility of a no deal.

The Fianna Fáil leader also asked if there were plans to seek EU regional and social fund support to help the State deal with the economic disruption. He said that the Revenue Commissioners had published their no Brexit plan and the world did not stop.

Mr Varadkar said the Government would reveal plans when it was appropriate. He told Mr Martin that there are 70 European Commission papers and 15 different sectoral plans.

Mr Varadkar said planning for a no deal scenario had increased and the UK had insisted on leaving the EU single market and customs union while rejecting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice to resolve disputes.

“I think it’s essential to point out that the basis of the backstop is not just an Irish issue, it’s a European issue as well”.