A referendum on Irish unity before 2030 is now an odds-on bet, according to bookmakers.
It comes amid increasing public debate on the prospect of Irish reunification among both nationalists and unionists.
The chances of a border poll being held before 2030 grew in May after nationalists outpolled unionists in the British-occupied Six Counties for the first time.
However, bookmakers say the prospect is “now an even hotter one” with BoyleSports making it a 5/6 chance from 6/4 this week.
It comes just days after SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he believed there should be a referendum by 2030.
But a comment by Leo Varadkar that he believes Ireland is “on the path to unification” has shifted the dial further.
Speaking to journalists last week, Mr Varadkar, who is aged 44, said he believes that “there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime”.
The relatively anodyne statement by the Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, who has become an unlikely hate figure for unionists, sparked new criticism and finger-wagging by British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris, who described the comments as “unhelpful”.
But Varadkar defended the comment and also expressed frustration with the British handling of a unionist boycott which has shut down the political institutions in the North.
Speaking in Belfast on Monday, Mr Varadkar said it is “not the first time I have expressed my view that I would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime”.
But he added: “Every time I say it, it is not the right time. So I would often ask the question, when is the right time?”.
The Taoiseach said he accepted that there would be a sizeable pro-British minority in a united Ireland, and he wanted to ensure they would be respected.
“I stated very clearly that I believe the success of a united Ireland would be judged on how we treat our minorities. That is how you judge the success of states,” he said.
Unionists were still critical of the remarks, however, with DUP deputy leader Gavin Robinson saying Mr Varadkar was “playing up [his] republican credentials”.
Direct Ruler Minister Steve Baker said while Mr Varadkar was entitled to make the comments, he questioned whether it was “a good idea”.
“It is of course unhelpful as a matter of fact. They’re entitled to do it, but of course there’s a difference between being entitled to something and it being a good idea, particularly in this moment.”
Absurdly, Baker made the comments while wearing a unionist badge, and failed to notice any hypocrisy on the issue –– for decades, successive Tory governments have expressed strong support for the Union, despite the Good Friday Agreement requiring them to show ‘parity of esteem’ for both nationalists and unionists.
Questioned by journalists, Baker showed no sense of irony.
“We respect the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in all of its dimensions, but that includes the consent of the people of Northern Ireland to be in the Union,” he said.