Irish Prime Minister says he aspires to a 'united Ireland'

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he aspires to a united Ireland based on "cross-community support" in remar...

Posted: Jan 2, 2018 9:25 PM
Updated: Jan 2, 2018 9:25 PM

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said he aspires to a united Ireland based on "cross-community support" in remarks released on Tuesday, the UK Press Association reported.

"In terms of a united Ireland, our constitution is clear on this," he said. "Our constitution aspires to there being a united Ireland. I share that aspiration."

But Varadkar made clear that unity between Ireland and Northern Ireland -- which is part of the United Kingdom -- could come about only "by consent."

"When it does come about I would like to see it command a degree of cross-community support," he added.

The remarks, which are likely to provoke criticism from unionist Northern Irish politicians, come just a few weeks after a deal was reached during Brexit negotiations between the UK government and the European Union on the historically sensitive issue of the Irish border.

The question had threatened to derail the talks and brought the controversial issue of a united Ireland to the fore.

The demilitarization of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 deal that ended years of sectarian conflict.

The UK's planned departure from the European Union raised the prospect of a return to a "hard" border, as Northern Ireland would leave the EU while the Republic of Ireland remained in the bloc. But in an agreement reached in December, the UK and EU pledged that there would be no hard border.

Even after the border deal was struck, concerns remained in Dublin over the UK government's handling of the issue. There is also unease that the commitments made by British Prime Minister Theresa May regarding the border may not be as solid as the initial wording suggested, which could strengthen support for Irish nationalism.

Jennifer Todd, professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at University College Dublin, said Varadkar's remarks were a direct response to the British government's approach to Brexit negotiations.

Todd said the British government -- under pressure from pro-Brexit lawmakers -- is "asserting an unreformed traditionalist concept of sovereignty over Northern Ireland" and has not listened when the Irish government "tried to say this diplomatically."

But Paul Bew, emeritus professor of politics at Queen's University Belfast and cross-bench peer in the British House of Lords, said that Varadkar's insistence on the need for consent and cross-community support had brought a new, more conciliatory tone to the debate.

"It's not actually provocative, it's meant to be the opposite," Bew said. "What he's doing here is trying to pull back from the irritation he has caused in the unionist community by the stance he took over the past several weeks ... this is an attempt to conciliate."

Building support for Irish unity across both Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland is "a 50-year project," Bew said. Varadkar's remarks are "a way of saying ... we don't want unity any time soon."

Whatever his motivation, Varadkar is likely to come under renewed fire from pro-unionist parties in Northern Ireland.

In the days before the border deal was brokered, Varadkar and his government were accused of exploiting the negotiations to forward their ambitions for a united Ireland. Varadkar was insisting that talks should not progress until London committed to preventing a "hard" border.

Members of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) -- a Northern Irishle party fiercely loyal to the British monarch -- were particularly outspoken, with the party's leader, Arlene Foster, accusing the Irish government of hijacking the talks.

READ MORE: Who are the DUP?

In an interview with the BBC Radio 4 Today program in November, Foster was particularly critical of Simon Coveney, Ireland's Foreign Minister, who had previously said he "would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime. If possible, in my political Iifetime."

"He's of course entitled to have that aspiration but he should not be using European Union negotiations to talk about those issues," Foster said.

Ten days later in the UK Parliament, DUP politician Nigel Dodds described the Irish government's approach as "aggressive" and "disgraceful."

Varadkar rejected the claims at the time, insisting: "There is no question of us trying to exploit Brexit ... we want to build bridges, not borders."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 52037

Reported Deaths: 2762
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12111693
Lake5677249
Elkhart366260
Allen2971134
St. Joseph221169
Hamilton1735101
Cass16489
Hendricks1470100
Johnson1351118
Porter84938
Vanderburgh8016
Tippecanoe7859
Clark71944
Madison68164
LaPorte62928
Howard61058
Bartholomew60545
Kosciusko5844
Marshall57011
Noble52428
Boone49244
LaGrange48710
Delaware48152
Jackson4793
Hancock47436
Shelby46025
Floyd41844
Monroe36128
Morgan34431
Grant32226
Dubois3196
Henry30318
Montgomery29720
Clinton2903
White27810
Dearborn27123
Warrick26829
Vigo2618
Decatur25732
Lawrence25325
Harrison21822
Greene19932
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1748
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1596
Daviess15117
Perry15110
Steuben1402
Orange13823
Jasper1362
Ripley1357
Franklin1288
Gibson1282
Wabash1193
Carroll1142
Starke1093
Fayette1087
Whitley1086
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells831
Randolph804
Fulton761
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Posey640
Rush623
Spencer591
Owen531
Benton510
Sullivan511
Adams491
Brown441
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Tipton331
Switzerland320
Parke280
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 66853

Reported Deaths: 3064
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12301449
Cuyahoga9359399
Hamilton7046208
Lucas3079306
Marion275539
Montgomery257936
Summit2382209
Pickaway222942
Mahoning1971239
Butler189747
Columbiana139560
Stark1244116
Lorain118970
Trumbull106678
Warren101826
Clark82010
Delaware76315
Fairfield71917
Lake62723
Tuscarawas62110
Licking60012
Medina59932
Belmont57324
Clermont5157
Miami51431
Wood51051
Portage50960
Ashtabula45244
Geauga43143
Richland3906
Allen38541
Wayne37655
Greene3659
Mercer30410
Erie30122
Holmes2625
Darke26126
Huron2602
Madison2259
Ottawa21724
Athens1921
Sandusky17615
Ross1503
Washington14720
Putnam14515
Coshocton1434
Crawford1405
Jefferson1272
Morrow1271
Hardin12512
Union1151
Auglaize1124
Muskingum1061
Preble961
Lawrence920
Clinton912
Monroe8917
Hancock871
Hocking839
Guernsey824
Scioto770
Shelby774
Williams772
Carroll713
Logan711
Ashland692
Fulton680
Wyandot665
Brown621
Fayette580
Highland581
Champaign571
Knox571
Defiance553
Van Wert491
Perry481
Seneca442
Henry370
Paulding340
Jackson310
Pike290
Adams282
Vinton232
Gallia211
Noble140
Harrison131
Meigs130
Morgan120
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Few Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 72°
Angola
Few Clouds
64° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 64°
Huntington
Clear
67° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 67°
Decatur
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 64°
Van Wert
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 64°
Storms Late Wednesday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events