Taoiseach Enda Kenny has further distanced himself from talk of a post-Brexit united Ireland poll after the North’s first minister, Arlene Foster, told him to concentrate on “reality” instead of “summer school” comments that cause “instability” in the province.
Speaking at a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Wales yesterday, to discuss member states’ individual concerns, Mr Kenny admitted that a vote on a united Ireland “is not going to be the case now or in the medium term, or perhaps ever”.
Despite the clear U-turn, the Fine Gael leader has stressed that the country is still not “going back to the days of checkpoints and towers” amid heightened talk of a hard border between north and south developing.
At the MacGill summer school in Glenties, Co Donegal, on Monday, Mr Kenny said a vote on reuniting the Republic and Northern Ireland was now a possibility in light of the Brexit vote.
He said this was because Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU, and that the clear break by Britain from the common market means the border issue is now back on the agenda.
Senior Government sources have indicated Mr Kenny’s comments were directed at Germany in a bid to convince it Ireland is a special case in the post-Brexit negotiations.
However, the remarks have led to a short-lived controversy on both sides of the border, with Mr Kenny forced to step back significantly from the position yesterday after meeting with Ms Foster and others in Cardiff.
“Maybe he should stay away from Donegal on the weeks in the summer and give some thought to other things,” Ms Foster told reporters.
“But seriously, I think it [talk of a united Ireland vote] has been unhelpful maybe in the way which it has come over.
“That’s all very well at summer schools and what have you, but I have to deal with reality and they have to be prepared for the people of Northern Ireland moving forward in this new era.”
Despite taking a clear step away from talk of a border vote in the near future due to the Brexit fallout, Mr Kenny reiterated his position yesterday that no hard border will return, regardless of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
Due to last month’s Brexit vote, the line between the Republic and North will soon be the only part of the common market which touches a non-member state but does not have a hard border.
The issue has raised legitimate security questions for other EU nations, most notably Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel last week ruled out any “special case” deal for Ireland in light of the emotive nature of the border.
During yesterday’s meeting of the British-Irish Council — which consists of the Republic, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England, and the Channel Islands — Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, said there are “huge concerns about the prospect of a hard border” developing.
New Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire said: “I do not want to see a return to the borders of the past.”
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