Fianna Fail leader says Brexit may now lead to United Ireland as most people in North say they want to stay in the European Union
By Bernard Purcell
Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin, whose party is keeping Enda Kenny’s minority Fine Gael government in power, has said he hopes Brexit may eventually lead to a United Ireland.
Delivering the John Hume lecture at the MacGill summer school in Glenties, Donegal at the weekend, Mr Martin said it was clear that most people in Northern Ireland wished to remain in the EU…despite the Democratic Unionist Party. And he criticised the way he said the DUP and Sinn Fein – the two ruling parties in Stormont – were abusing power and pandering to their own constituencies at the expense of everyone else in Northern Ireland.
Fifty-six per cent of voters in Northern Ireland voted to Remain last month, a higher proportion than those who voted ‘Leave’ across the UK as a whole. That vote may turn out to be a defining moment, said Mr. Martin and may show a need to “rethink current arrangements”.
“It may very well be that the decision of Northern Ireland to oppose the English-driven anti-EU UK majority is a defining moment in Northern politics.”
“The Remain vote may show people the need to rethink current arrangements. I hope it moves us towards majority support for unification, and if it does we should trigger a reunification referendum.”
But, he stressed, there is no evidence – as of now – that this is what people in Northern Ireland actually want.
“At this moment the only evidence we have is that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want to maintain open borders and a single market with this jurisdiction.”
Reintroducing the Border could set back decades of political and economic progress, he warned.
“The Brexit vote has added a new risk. It threatens to set back a model of shared development, which, in spite of many problems, has achieved a lot and could achieve much more.
Mr. Martin also called for an all-Ireland, islandwide engagement with the people of Northern Ireland on what to do after Brexit. The Oireachtas, he said, should convene a “national dialogue” or “civil dialogue” of workers, business organisations, NGOs, and community groups but it should be different to the All-Island Forum originally proposed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and shot down by DUP leader and Stormont First Minister Arlene Foster.
He wanted to reach out to the “excluded groups, to show that a broader range of interests than those articulated by the dominant political parties can be heard”
Ms Foster’s dismissive and abrupt response left Mr. Kenny open to criticism and ridicule by outside of and within his own political party. But Mr. Martin Stressed the DUP’s permission or approval was not needed – and he criticised how it and Sinn Fein had carved up Northern Irish politics at the expense of stakeholders from all parts of society in the North.
He accused both the DUP and Sinn Fein for “the return of openly sectarian campaigning” in last year’s General Election. “Sinn Féin (even) went as far as to publish a leaflet calling for Catholics to vote for them in order to get one over on the Protestants,” said Mr. Martin.
The FF leader criticised Mr. Kenny’s government and Irish news media for their attitudes to Northern Ireland. “The most urgent thing which is required is an immediate end to the hand-off detachment of recent years. “It is a sad reality that our government and our media have tended to ignore Northern Ireland except when there is a crisis.
“Meeting the challenge of Brexit is a moment to end this and also to begin rebuilding public faith in politics,” said Mr. Martin.
Last month, the then Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and sided with the DUP, said before she was removed from office by new Prime Minister Theresa May: “The Good Friday Agreement is very clear that the circumstances where the secretary of state is required to have a border poll is where there is reason to believe there would be a majority support for a united Ireland. “There is nothing to indicate that in any of the opinion surveys that have taken place.
“Again and again they demonstrate that a significant majority of people in Northern Ireland are content with the political settlement established under the Belfast Agreement and Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.”