Varadkar Sets Sights on the North in Push for United Ireland
Ireland’s deputy prime minister, Leo Varadkar, urged his party to work with a growing “middle ground” of voters north of the border, saying a united Ireland can be achieved in his lifetime.
“It is a legitimate political aspiration,” Varadkar, who is set to take over as prime minister next year under a coalition deal, told Fine Gael’s party conference late on Tuesday. “It means the unification of the people of our island.”
It’s a century since the island was divided between the largely protestant north -- which remains part of the U.K. -- and what would become the independent Republic of Ireland. But Brexit, and the imposition of of an economic border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K., has upset that uneasy balance, angering unionists and fueling violence around Belfast.
There is “no majority anymore” in Northern Ireland, said Varadkar, 42. “There are three minorities: one that defines itself as British and Unionist, another as Irish and Nationalist, and a third and growing middle ground -- many born since the Good Friday Agreement -- who refuse to be defined in this way.”
He called on his party to appeal to that “middle ground” and said unification shouldn’t mean the “annexation” of Northern Ireland, but “a new state designed together” reflecting its diversity.
Varadkar said his party won’t run candidates in Northern Ireland, but should build a presence on the ground there.
Under the Good Friday Agreement -- the 1998 peace treaty which largely ended three decades of sectarian violence -- the U.K. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland can call a vote on Irish reunification if it appears “likely” a majority would back it. Consent is then required on both sides of the border.
A recent poll for the Irish Independent newspaper showed two- thirds of voters in the Republic support a united Ireland, but only 35% in the North.
“The views of unionists must be acknowledged, understood and respected,” Varadkar said. “But no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future.”
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