Talk of Border poll ‘silly right now’, says SDLP leader

Brexit has ‘rocked nationalism to its core’, Eastwood tells Irish Times

SDLP leader Calum Eastwood has said talk of a "Border poll" is "silly right now" and that the political situation in the North needed to be carefully managed to avoid "rocking the stability that is hard won".

"We can talk about a Border poll down the line, but we want a Border poll we can actually win" said the MLA for Foyle on The Irish Times Inside Politics podcast, recorded at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal.

The Belfast Agreement allows the Northern Secretary to hold a referendum in the North on its position within the United Kingdom if he or she believes there is a desire of people in Northern Ireland to change their legal status.

The comments follow Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s remarks on Monday, suggesting that a future poll may play a part in Brexit negotiations, and Sinn Féin’s call for a poll immediately after the referendum result.


Brexit has “rocked nationalism to its core” in Northern Ireland, according to Mr Eastwood, who used his address at MacGill to argue against Northern Ireland “being dragged out of the EU against its will”.

"No matter how often Theresa May repeats that Brexit means Brexit, we must strongly reply that consent means consent," he said.

Along with the challenges of Brexit, the threat of terrorism was on the agenda yesterday at MacGill, where Europol director Rob Wainwright said Britain leaving the EU could have implications for European efforts to combat terrorism.

He also warned of the difficulty in stopping attackers who act alone without making contact with known terrorist groups.

Speaking on the Inside Politics podcast after his address at MacGill, Mr Wainwright said it was “really hard to contain” attackers who were “off the counter-terrorist radar” and who had become “radicalised in weeks” in some instances.

“The reality is we can’t get the threat down to zero, and that’s something we have to live with,” he said.

The UK has driven much European security cooperation over two decades, said Mr Wainwright, leading to a “large scale, industrialised information sharing regime”, for which Brexit has “potential implications”.

“The terms on which the UK leaves the EU are critical here, absolutely critical. There’s good reason to believe the UK will still believe in most of those and that any legal and operational difficulties around non-EU member states doing that can be ironed out, but that’s all subject to the form the negotiation will take. In the meantime we have uncertainty,” he said.

Mr Wainwright said it would be difficult to see another year "as brutal and spectacular" as 2016, and that the threat of attacks would only increase as Isis fighters returned from the failing regime's shrinking area of control in Iraq and Syria.

He also warned of the difficulty in identifying attackers who act alone without making contact with known terrorist groups.

“The nature of the threat is very very hard to contain when someone comes out of nowhere, radicalised in weeks, off the sort of counter-terrorist radar, and hits us in the way we saw, well I think that’s really hard to contain,” he said.

“The reality is we can’t get the threat down to zero, and that’s something we have to live with”.

Mr Wainwright also said that while there are “learning lessons” to be taken from France’s response to terror threats, criticism of the failure to prevent the attack in Nice is “over-hyped” and “neglects the fact that most attacks are stopped”.

Declan Conlon

Declan Conlon

Declan Conlon is head of audio at The Irish Times