Sunday, July 14, 2024
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Leo Varadkar says the next Irish government should start actively preparing for unification…

Ben M is a slugger reader from Dublin

I’ve long thought conflating the unification issue with SF distorts it. A border poll, and the preparations that precede it will be dominated by a wider range of Irish political, state, and civic entities, of which SF will merely be a part. So when many people talk of unification in terms of SF, I think the question most worth asking isn’t about them, it’s – ‘When will the rest of Ireland decide it wants to start this process?’. So far the answer has been ‘Who knows?’, but Leo Varadkar has made me wonder if things might change soon.

No longer a government minister, Leo Varadkar was freer to speak when he was interviewed at Saturday’s Ireland’s Future event. His views on unification are much closer to SF than the current FG policy. He thinks the next Irish government, whichever parties are in it, should make unification a political goal and begin active preparations for it. He didn’t want to get tied to dates for a border poll but said the Irish and British governments should discuss the conditions for calling one, and that decision shouldn’t be the Secretary of State’s.

“While Sinn Fein is proposing a Citizens’ Assembly be set up on Irish unity, the former Fine Gael leader believes it’s the wrong model as “expertise and political buy-in” is required.

He suggested a New Ireland Forum “similar to what Garret FitzGerald established in the 1980s” be set up as “the next step”.

He said he had hoped to establish one after he became Taoiseach in 2017. However, the need to focus on securing a Brexit deal with the UK, and then restoring devolution at Stormont, meant he had been unable to do so.

With greater stability and Northern Ireland’s political institutions up and running, it was now possible to establish such a forum, he added.

Mr Varadkar said a border poll must not happen “until we’ve a high level of confidence we’ll have a yes vote in favour of unification”.

He mentioned some other things. He also said the Irish government should start setting aside money for a unification fund now. Another idea he put forward was a two-stage referendum, with the second stage being used to decide the details of the new unified state. The logic behind this is that Unionists couldn’t be expected to take part in discussions on this new state before the first referendum, as they would be campaigning for a No vote in it.

How likely is it the next Irish government will do any of this? I suppose the answer is still, ‘Who knows?’. However, I was struck by one thing. Leo Varadkar seemed to be volunteering himself for the job of making it happen. If he runs to be a TD again in the next Irish GE maybe he’ll make it his focus. Perhaps the SDLP & SF should encourage him in this direction. He might have a chance of making happen, what they have long only been able to hope for.


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