Taoiseach rules out united Ireland referendum as ‘divisive’

Martin quizzed on adviser costs and expense of 20 Ministers of State in new Government

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald raised the issue of a Border poll, which the party has long campaigned for.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has ruled out a referendum on a united Ireland as too “divisive” and “partisan” and instead favours the development of a “stronger north-south relationship”.

He told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald that the all-island unit to be established in his department will be focused on how to “develop a shared future”.

Mr Martin made his comments during a debate on revised estimates in which he announced €20 million in additional funding required to fund public information campaigns linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said €10.5 million had been spent on the campaigns about issues such as social distancing, face masks and arrangements for the Leaving Certificate.

Ms McDonald raised the issue of a Border poll which the party has long campaigned for as she also questioned Mr Martin about advisers and press secretaries and offices for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan within the Taoiseach’s department.


She asked Mr Martin to outline the costs for the two other Coalition leaders, adding that “I am at a loss as to why the Tánaiste needs an aide-de- camp”, the military officer who accompanies him to or represents him at official events.

Ms McDonald said there is only one Taoiseach and suggested that “it’s not great for our system of government for any real or perceived rivalry to be in existence” from the outset.

She also questioned the appointment of 20 Ministers of State and said they needed to know how much it costs because “the taxpayer is picking up the bill”.

The Sinn Féin president had insisted that a referendum on Irish unity was imperative and an all-island approach was required for the development of the economy and to protect health services.

Mr Martin said the agenda for the future of the island is about developing an accommodation so “we can all live in peace and harmony and not to try to dictate to one tradition about what the solution is going to be which seems to be the agenda you’re pursuing”.

‘Future arrangements’

He said the Belfast Agreement was based on three sets of relationships: British-Irish; North-South; and the two traditions within Northern Ireland. He said that “irrespective of what may emerge in the future, it is my view that these three sets of relationships will have to underpin any future arrangements”.

Referring to staffing levels for Mr Varadkar and Mr Ryan, the Taoiseach said the last government also had press secretaries and advisers, including about 20 politically appointed staff.

Mr Martin said there had been an office of Tánaiste since the early 1990s when Fianna Fáil and Labour were in office. Political input is important to deliver a government programme as was “constructive” engagement between civil servants and political advisers.

He added that “this is a tripartite Government and the three parties will retain the same number of staff roughly as the former taoiseach had” and the full complement of political staff, which had not yet been finalised, would be published and transparent.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times