British opposition could call border poll

peterkyle.jpg

The British Labour Party has said it would be prepared to call a referendum on Irish reunification if it gets into power. Shadow British Direct Ruler Peter Kyle has said he would set out his criteria for calling a referendum.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the power to call a ‘border poll’ rests with the British Direct Ruler “if it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the UK and form part of a united Ireland”.

The specific condition for such a vote has never been clarified.

“I am saying I am not going to be a barrier if the circumstances emerge,” Kyle (pictured) said at the Labour Party conference.

There has been growing pressure for detail around the condition for when a referendum on Irish unification could be held. Opinion polls increasingly highlight a majority demand for a vote on Irish reunification in the near term, while unionists represent a declining minority at the Belfast Assembly.

However, the British opposition spokesperson on the North claimed the conditions currently did not exist for a border poll, without explanation. While constitutional issues were important, they were a distraction from the cost of living crisis, he said.

Sinn Féin’s Chris Hazzard said the comments were “recognition from Peter Kyle that the current position is unsustainable”.

“It’s having your head in the sand simply to deny the fact that constitutional change is coming, that people are talking about this, civic society and political parties and all around us,” the South Down MP said.

“So, it’s a responsible thing to do. We obviously have to wait to wait to see if he even gets into post to be able to do this.”

SDLP leader Colm Eastwood said conversations needed to start happening.

“The most important thing for those of us who want to see change, we need to make the case,” he said.

“We need to convince people, we need to talk to people over the next number of years and make sure they can feel comfortable with the change that we are proposing.”

Meanwhile, a former Labour British Direct Ruler has admitted it is increasingly likely the conditions for a border poll would soon be met.

Shaun Woodward told the BBC: “The tea-leaves are undoubtedly pointing in the direction of suggesting there may be grounds for holding the referendum – which, under the terms of the Belfast agreement that we signed up to and incorporated into legislation, both in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland, we are bound to do that if those conditions are met.”

He said the necessary conditions had yet to be met but were “getting pretty close”.

“... it’s a judgement call, but I think you have to respect the legislation, as you know, I’ve always done so,” the former Labour MP said.

“And we can have a poll – let’s remember that the poll doesn’t of course mean itself that will bring about unification.”

Regardless of the British stance, Ireland is seeing increasing planning for a unity vote.

The ‘Ireland’s Future’ campaign for Irish Unity holds its biggest ever event, entitled ‘Together We Can’ at the giant 3Arena venue in Dublin on Saturday, October 1. The chief executive Gerry Carlile said the venue is the largest the group has booked “by some distance” and will be a “special event”.

High profile speakers include the leaders of five Irish nationalist political parties, actors Colm Meaney and Jimmy Nesbitt, musicians Donal Lunny and Frances Black, and prominent US political figures Brendan Boyle and Martin J Walsh.

Mr Carlile stressed that the event is not a rally but a conference which aims to include anyone with an interest in Irish unity and a new Ireland. The group will also launch a 200-page “vision document” for the future of Ireland on Saturday.

“There is an increasing number of people asking an increasing number of questions about what Irish unity means for them and their families. It’s very exciting,” Mr Carlile said. “The feedback we are getting is truly phenomenal.”

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