A refusal by Micheál Martin to say if a border poll will ever take place and a statement that Irish reunification is not a priority has put the Taoiseach at odds with a broad swathe of Irish public opinion, including his own party.
The Fianna Fáil leader made the comments at the launch of his so-called ‘Shared Island Initiative’, which outlined proposals for North-South construction projects over the next five years. He also launched what he said was a “Shared Island Dialogue” aimed at establishing inclusive conversations in Ireland about a ‘shared future’, starting next month.
He again said he felt the long overdue border poll -- a referendum within the Six Counties on Irish unification set out by the Good Friday peace Agreement -- would be “divisive”.
Asked by journalists if he has now abandoned a United Ireland, Martin refused to deny it. He said “it depends what you mean by a United ireland” and insisted he still believes in the Good Friday Agreement.
“I’ve heard all the rhetoric. I’ve heard it all over the years, when I was going to school it was; ‘Brits out’ and all that,” he said. “That gets you nowhere.”
He also said he held the view hat “we learn to share this island”, but that Irish unity was not a priority. Instead, his government would look for “a genuine consensus on things”.
Despite Britain’s long-standing refusal to implement key elements of the Good Friday Agreement, and the recent passage through Westminster of legislation which undermines it, Martin insisted Britain remained a guarantor of the peace deal.
But the Taoiseach’s views were rejected by many of his party members, with TDs Jim O’Callaghan, Eamon Ó Cuív and Barry Cowen stressing that reunification should be at the core of Mr Martin’s plans. Barry Cowen said he agreed with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that there should be a poll on the 30th anniversary of the agreement, in 2028.
Mr Cowen said: “Fianna Fáil must and will still abide by our aims to peacefully secure the unity and independence of Ireland as a Republic and carry out the democratic programme of first Dáil.”
Speaking following the Taoiseach’s event, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD said, “The truth is that any conversation about the future of our island and the Good Friday Agreement must address preparing for a unity referendum.”
“It is undeniable that the challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit have crystallised the folly and unsustainability of the partition of our island. It is clear to anyone paying attention that there is a growing momentum towards the unity of the country and the conversation about a United Ireland is happening across the island.”
“People are re-considering long held views and looking at the possibility and potential of a United Ireland to deliver a better future for us all. Change is happening. There is no value to be found in the Taoiseach and his government failing to recognise that reality and standing against the tide of this change.”