Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has said he believes reunification could happen because of Brexit and has called for a debate on “protections” for the unionist community.
His remarks came as an official report showed that people in the north of Ireland would be better off in a united Ireland inside the European Union.
Speaking at the MacGill summer school in Donegal on Friday, Peter Robinson, who retired as the Six County First Minister in 2016, said he believes the North must now prepare for the possibility of a united Ireland.
The former leader of the hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said he would accept the results of a border poll which could led to the North joining the South, if there is a majority within the Six Counties.
“As soon as that decision is taken every democrat will have to accept that decision,” he said in response to a question from the audience. But he said holding a border poll without preparation for reunification would be “madness”, and compared it to the British decision to leave the European Union.
While he said he did not believe it would happen, he said he could not rule it out. The unionist community should have “protections” in the event of reunification, as the nationalist community currently enjoys in the North, and he called for “a working north-south institution” to smooth relationships across the two islands.
In a response to Robinson’s comments posted on Twitter, Sinn Fein’s spokesperson on reunification Matt Carthy said: “Something big is happening -- change is coming. We all need to prepare for unity.”
Earlier this week a committee of the Dublin parliament circulated a report internally which confirms the financial benefits of reunification in the aftermath of Brexit. The main author is a German economist, Gunther Thumann, who worked as a senior economist at the German desk of the International Monetary Fund at the time of German reunification. He brought his understanding of that process to the situation in Ireland.
The Six County budget, which currently faces an annual deficit of some nine billion pounds, would be near balanced in a reunification scenario, he reported. Some three billion could be saved be ending the North’s contribution to British defence expenditure and debt interest, among others, while almost two billion could be saved by combining public services across the island.
It also argues that there wold also be a significant adjustment due to pensions, as these would remain the legal responsibility of the British government since the pension liabilities accrued under British rule.
Sinn Fein has long argued that unification would be beneficial to Ireland and published a report two years ago to dispel what it calls the “unaffordability myth”.
The Thumann research has inexplicably not been published, apparently at the request of Irish diplomats, but it was passed on to members of the Dublin parliament by the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.
Its ultimate conclusion was that everybody in the North of Ireland would be better off in a united Ireland, and inside the EU.
“This is of course, before taking into account the likely potential for growth in Northern Ireland following unification as happened in East Germany following its reunification,” said Fianna Fail Senator Mark Daly, who co-authored the report.
Reports of the research emerged as a historic meeting took place of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC) in London, its first meeting in eleven years.
With the collapse of the devolved institutions at Stormont, the conference gives Dublin a consultative role on most issues affecting the north of Ireland. Dismissed by unionists as a talking shop, many nationalists see it as a possible first step to joint authority of the North by the two governments, and therefore a potential stepping stone to reunification.
An agenda for the meeting was not released to the public.