As a new poll pointed to a clear demand across Ireland for a vote on Irish reunification, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week effectively ruled one out, saying there will be no such referendum for “a very, very long time to come”.
More than two in three people in the Six Counties are in favour of a border poll, while more than four in five of people in the 26 Counties back one, according to a survey carried out for the latest BBC Spotlight programme.
Recent polls have also shown a clear majority in favour of reunification across the island, although people in the occupied Six Counties are evenly divided.
However, both the British PM and the 26 County Taoiseach dismissed the idea a popular vote on the issue, even though it is a key element of the 1998 Good Friday peace Agreement.
Mr Johnson told the BBC Spotlight show that he “celebrated” the partition of Ireland as “a proud unionist”. In his eyes, nationalists “felt excluded” from Britain and urged people to “think collectively about what it [the UK] can do together”.
For his part, Taoiseach Micheal Martin again blankly rejected calls for a referendum, denouncing the idea of a democratic unity vote as “explosive and divisive”.
He instead repeated the can-kicking ideas of previous Dublin governments with a call for “real engagement, real discussions, real opening up”, a gesture that the DUP and other unionists have always ridiculed.
The DUP leader and the North’s First Minister Arlene Foster again dismissed suggestions that people in the Six Counties should be discussing Irish unity.
“This whole thing that a united Ireland is just around the corner, I have heard that all my adult life,” she told the BBC.
“This is a feature of narrow nationalism, that they use this sort of inevitability argument that we are going to move towards a united Ireland.
She said she was “frustrated” because there was “no balanced debate of where we are in a global United Kingdom moving forward.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald called on the Dublin and London governments to end their denial and to start planning for Irish unity.
She said: “Partition failed us all. The future beckons. Change is coming. It’s time to prepare and plan, to grasp the historic opportunity.”
She said the Good Friday Agreement expressly provides for referenda on Irish unity to be held north and south.
“Both the Irish and British governments are bound to uphold the Agreement,” she said, attacking the “dismissive rhetoric” of the two leaders.
“The British Prime Minister Boris Johnston has no right to stand in the way of progress and orderly constitutional change in Ireland. His comments on this evening’s Spotlight programme are arrogant and unacceptable.
“There is now a live and growing conversation underway about Irish unity and the benefits it will bring to the people of Ireland, north and south. Vibrant and inclusive conversations are taking place in communities across the island.
“Brexit and Covid-19 have each exposed the very real dangers of having two jurisdictions on our small island. Through Irish unity, we have an exciting opportunity to build an economically strong and diverse country that reconciles past divisions and looks to the future.
“The Irish government can no longer bury their heads in the sand. Failing to plan for constitutional change at this critical juncture represents a dereliction of duty.
“The Taoiseach’s continued refusal to accept this reality is reckless. The responsible and necessary approach is to now engage in discussions and dialogue, and to plan for change.
“Immediate steps that should be taken include the commissioning of a government White Paper on Irish Unity, the establishment of an Oireachtas Committee on Irish Unity, the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the convening of a Citizens’ Assembly on Irish reunification.
“Unity represents an opportunity to bring all of our people together to build a new Ireland. We believe that can happen within the next five years. Preparation for unity is urgent and must begin now.”