Taoiseach rules out 'divisive' border poll in 'next few years'

Taoiseach rules out 'divisive' border poll in 'next few years'
(Left to right) SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, UUP MLA Doug Beattie, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald, Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith, DUP MP Gregory Campbell, and Alliance Party of NI’s Naomi Long MEP, during Féile an Phobail’s Leader’s Debate at St Mary’s University College, Belfast. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out a border poll “in the next few years” because doing so in the aftermath of the Brexit crisis could lead to a "sectarian" campaign which could repeat the mistakes of partition a century ago.

Mr Varadkar downplayed the possibility of a cross-border vote tonight, despite growing political and northern demands for the move due to the deepening Brexit stand-off.

Speaking at the Féile an Phobail festival on the Falls Road in west Belfast, Mr Varadkar said while he understands the renewed interest in a poll, holding a vote "in a few years time or next years is not the right way forward".

The Taoiseach said the Stormont freeze and ongoing fears of a no-deal Brexit mean it is likely any poll would be "very divisive, and break down on sectarian lines".

And, while saying there is a need to build towards a poll in the future, he emphasised if a poll was successful it would have to result in a "new state" and "new constitution" that did not just "absorb" Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar's comments were jeered by a section of the crowd which had otherwise broadly welcomed him, and criticised by fellow panellist and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who said it is "inconceivable" not to hold a poll if there is a crash-out Brexit.

Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith said the timing is "a complex issue", while the Alliance Party's Naomi Long said while she has similar views to Mr Varadkar "the likelihood increases the harder the Brexit".

Also speaking on the panel were the UUP's Doug Beattie and the DUP's Gregory Campbell, both of whom rejected border poll calls.

Mr Beattie said he is a "constitutional unionist", before responding to a heckler by saying he is Irish and British and should not be "boiled down", while Mr Campbell said "my Britishness is not up for negotiation".

The debate had earlier heard the SDLP's Daniel McCrossan describe "extreme" Brexiteers as "lunatics", Ms Long say David Cameron was "spectacularly irresponsible" and Ms McDonald insist "Brexit [blame] belongs to the Tories".

Asked if he trusts new British prime minister Boris Johnson, Mr Campbell paused before saying: "It's not a matter of trust. I don't have to trust Boris, and Boris doesn't have to trust us."

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