BELGRADE – Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has raised the prospect of a referendum on Irish reunification as the fallout from the UK’s decision to vote in favor of leaving the EU continues.
Kenny said that Brexit negotiations should take into account a possibility of a vote to unite Ireland, pointing to a clause in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Speaking about the implications of Brexit, Kenny said the trigger for an Irish reunification referendum would be “clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the UK and join the Republic.”
“The discussions and the negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility — however far out it might be — that the clause in the Good Friday Agreement might be triggered,” he told broadcaster RTE.
“In that, if there’s clear evidence of a majority of people wishing to leave the United Kingdom and join the Republic — that should be catered for in the discussions that take place.”
Kenny’s comments are significant given he has previously remained coy on the issue of Irish unity.
While the thought of a united Ireland had seemed an unrealistic prospect for many, the Brexit vote — and Northern Ireland’s decision to vote to stay in the EU — has raised questions about whether Northern Ireland and Scotland could break away from the UK.
There are also concerns over Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland.
While border checkpoints were in place during previous decades, they have since been disbanded, with concerns some border controls may need to be introduced again.
There have also been fears that the Brexit vote could lead to a flare up in sectarian violence between unionists and pro-independence republicans.
The power to call a referendum on Irish reunification ultimately lies with the British Secretary of State, however the Good Friday Agreement stipulates that a vote can be called if there is evidence of a strong change in opinion in favor of Irish unity.
Kenny said the possibility of an “all-island solution” should be considered, saying pro-reunification sentiment could grow with the UK leaving the EU.
“It may be, in the eyes of some, a fanciful theory but who knows what happens in 10, 20 years’ time,” Kenny said, pointing to the successful reunification of Germany.
“In the same way as it was possible for the former East Germany to be associated with West Germany, and not to have to go through a long and tortuous process to join the European Union — and these negotiations should take these kinds of things into account as well.”
Kenny’s comments directly contradict those of new Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who ruled out a vote on unification.
He said there was a “clear, constitutional settlement in relation to the border poll and it’s also clear to be that opinion does not support a change.”
“We do need to move on now. I think that we do need to focus on the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom outside the European Union.”