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24 June 2016

What does Brexit mean for Northern Ireland?

Multiple Sinn Féin party figures either side of the border have called for a poll, but Taoiseach Enda Kenny says conditions are not currently met.

By Stephanie Boland

Sinn Féin have called for a poll on Irish unity following the EU referendum result.

Chairman Declan Kearney said:

We have a situation where the north is going to be dragged out on the tails of a vote in England. . . . The British Government has now forfeited its mandate to represent the north of Ireland.

Martin McGuiness echoed his sentiments:

The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a ‘border poll’ to be held.

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We are now in unchartered waters, nobody really knows what is going to happen. The implications for all of us on the island of Ireland are absolutely massive. This could have very profound implications for our economy (in Northern Ireland).

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. . . .

The people of the north of Ireland, nationalists, republicans, unionists and others have made it clear at the polls that they wish to remain in the EU. 

Martina Anderson, an MEP for Northern Ireland who is also a former IRA member and bomber released in 1998 under the terms of the Good Friday agreement, has said the onus is on the British government to call a border poll.

There is an onus on the British government to recognise the vote in the devolved administrations and there is on onus on them to provide answers for the several unanswered questions that the people of the north have.

Sinn Féin will now be pushing for a border poll, a measure agreed upon in the Good Friday Agreement 18 years ago, to provide Irish citizens with the right to vote for an end to partition and to retain a role in the EU.

MEP Liadh Ní Riada has also called for a border poll:

56% of the electorate in the north have rejected the right-wing agenda of the British Tory party, yet English votes have overturned their democratic will.

Meanwhile RTÉ, the state broadcaster for the Republic of Ireland, has said that “Northern Ireland is now set to become the only part of the UK with a land border between it and an EU member”.

In Northern Ireland, where there were was a 56% vote for Remain, a border poll can be called if there is clear evidence of public opinion swinging towards Irish unity.

Enda Kenny: “We must use this breathing space wisely” 

In a press conference, Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said that Britain and Ireland must “take this breathing space and use it wisely” and has promised to act in the best interests of the people of the island, “both north and south”.

In the short term, there will be “no change” to the movement of people and services between the UK and Ireland, Kenny says.

He added, however, that “the implications of this vote for Northern Ireland and for relations North and South on this Island will require careful consideration.”

This will be of particular priority for the government:

We will approach these issues in the same spirit of partnership that has underpinned the peace process and has transformed relationships ont his island since the Good Friday agreement.

I welcome the clear statement from the Prime Minister this morning that the interests in NI will be fully reflected in the negotiating position of the British government.

I will meet with colleagues from the NI executive on Monday week . . . where we will have detailed discussions on how best to discuss these new circumstances.

What will happen to the CTA?

Kenny says the will do upmost to uphold the Common Travel Area and “minimise any possible disruptions to the flow of people, of goods and of services between these islands.”

“We are acutely aware”, Kenny added, “of the concerns that will be felt by . . . the Irish communtiy in Britain. Let me assure them that the Irish government will also have their interests in our thinking. “While Ireland’s future lies within the European Union, Ireland’s very strong relationship with the United Kingdom will continue to strengthen.”

The government’s other immediate concern is “the impact on the European Union itself.” Kenny says it is “profoundly” in Ireland’s national interest to remain in the EU. “We must now, however, begin a period of reflection and debate on how we can renew the union of ’27 and equip it for the many challenges that lie ahead.”

There will be a discussion at the meeting of the European Council next week, where Kenny intends to ensure that Ireland’s national interests are “fully represented”.

Asked about a potential border poll, Kenny said that it’s “obviously . . . contained in the Good Friday Agreement” that if the secretary of state sees a shift in public opinion, they may call for a poll. He currently does not believe this is the case.

The Dáil will be recalled on Monday.