Doubts expressed about NI First Minister’s ability to represent all the people of Northern Ireland
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers swiftly dismissed demands by Sinn Fein for a post-Brexit Border Poll on Northern Ireland joining the Republic.
But their emphatic rejection did not silence Sinn Fein’s demands. The leader of what was once Northern Ireland’s biggest party, Mike Nesbitt of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) – who, with the SDLP and SF campaigned against Brexit – said the Referendum vote had reawakened potentially divisive nationalism.
Mr Nesbitt said one of the dividends of the Good Friday, St Andrew’s, and Stormont House Agreements had been that Nationalists who had previously been content in Northern Ireland, were now, following last Thursday’s vote, rethinking that.
The 2011 census showed that more than a quarter of Northern Ireland’s Catholics identified themselves as ‘Northern Irish’, while a survey carried out on behalf of the BBC in 2013 found just 21 per cent of people in Northern Ireland would vote for a united Ireland in a referendum. But, said Mr Nesbitt, nationalists who had previously been quite “relaxed” with the constitutional status quo had been angered by the referendum result.
In Northern Ireland, where only Arlene Foster’s DUP wanted to leave the EU – supported by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers on the Leave campaign – voters chose to remain by an eight point margin.
Mr Nesbitt said: “I think an unexpected consequence of the referendum result is to reopen the constitutional question and we now have people who were content in Northern Ireland last week thinking again about a united Ireland.
“Quite a number of nationalists were relaxed with the constitutional arrangements but they will be reviewing this in terms of protecting their European identity – what they need as a reassurance is certainty, but there is none.”
Mr Nesbitt said he accepted last Thursday’s vote but said it was a “very bad decision” and it raised questions about DUP leader Arlene Foster’s capacity as First Minister to represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland, not just her own supporters.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “The Brexit vote changes the context and that means the argument changes.
“We we now need to speed up integration across Ireland not just to advance nationalism but to ensure we are no longer at the mercy of right wing people in England who have different interests than we do.”
Sinn Féin said: “It is the worst elements of right wing, jingoistic English nationalism that is threatening to take the people of the north of Ireland and Scotland, who both voted to remain, out of the EU. This is entirely undemocratic and the democratic deficit needs to be challenged.”