Irish unity ‘can’t be rushed or forced’, Minister says after poll

Northern Ireland would vote decisively against a united Ireland if there was a Border poll, a new research project poll results show

An Irish Times poll on reunification shows the issue can’t be “rushed or forced”, a Government minister has said.

Damien English, Minister of State in the Department of Enterprise, told RTÉ's Week in Politics programme on Sunday that his reading of the poll published in Saturday’s Irish Times was that the people of Northern Ireland “recognise that this is a long journey”.

The poll showed Northern Ireland would vote decisively against a united Ireland if the question was put to the electorate, with almost twice as many voters who expressed a preference preferring to remain in the United Kingdom. A simultaneous and identical poll in the Republic found a majority of more than four to one in favour of unity.

Mr English told RTÉ that “while we all might want unity eventually, we have to be very, very careful how we get there. We have to be very responsible, that means a lot of consideration ... it certainly can’t be rushed or forced,” he said, agreeing with Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall, who was also on the programme, and said that the key would be winning “hearts and minds.”

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“This isn’t a numbers game and it isn’t about forcing a substantial number of people into what people in the Republic want,” Ms Shortall said. Sinn Féin TD for Donegal Pádraig Mac Lochlainn told the programme he believed there would be a unity referendum before the end of this decade and there as a need to “prepare responsibly.”

“We need to have the discussions now, and I do think a civic assembly is the way to go about that, we need a white paper on Irish unity, we need an Oireachtas committee on Irish unity,” he said.

I’m very clear in my mind that whatever about political unionism, there’s a wider sphere of unionism, for example the people who vote for the Alliance Party who are very interested in a reunified Ireland as part of the European Union,” he added.

When asked about tax breaks for property development, Mr English told the programme “it would be unwise to rule anything out”. While defending the Government’s record on housing and policy interventions aimed at vacancy and funding stranded apartment developments, he conceded there was “some concern” over figures on housing commencements in recent weeks, which show a trailing off relative to last year.

The suggestion of tax breaks was rejected by both opposition deputies with Ms Shortall saying Fine Gael had been “determined to give responsibility for house building and the supply of homes to the market” and Mr Mac Lochlainn saying that party and Fianna Fáil were “always looking at tax breaks, they’re always looking at institutional investors (and) relying on the private sector”.

On bankers pay and the return of bonuses approved by Government this week, Mr Mac Lochlainn said people were “sickened” by the development.

Mr English pushed back on suggestions that road use could be tolled by distance travelled, first reported by The Business Post on Sunday, saying he didn’t believe it was being looked at. “I’m not in the Department of Transport, but I don’t hear that’s the case.”

Ms Shortall said people would only leave their cars behind when there is adequate public transport. She said commuters would still be hit with higher tolls eventually and that people who use the M50 from the Greater Dublin Area would face a “huge impact” when the current Government scheme protecting them from toll increases expires next July.

Asked about a reorganisation of Government departments when the Taoiseach’s position changes hands later this month – especially the Department of Integration, Mr English said there was a “lot of Departments under pressure”. Ms Shortall said there was “enormous pressure” on Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman.

“It appears to me some of the other ministers are hiding away responsibility and this has all fallen on Roderic O’Gorman’s shoulders,” Mr Mac Lochlainn said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times