- 20 Jun 23
The Taoiseach argued that a border poll will only be a good idea when a clear majority of people both North and South of the border will vote in favour. He also offered trenchant views about the likelihood of Sinn Féin being in a position to form a government after the next general election here...
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stated that while he is in favour of a united Ireland, a unification referendum is “not a good idea” as it is not the right time.
Speaking during a News Xchange conference interview with BBC presenter Tara Mills, in the Convention Centre, Dublin, on Monday, Varadkar dismissed current calls for a border poll, saying that getting Stormont back up and running is where his focus lies.
“The biggest difficulty of a border poll that is unsuccessful would be that it would take it off the agenda for a really long time,” Varadkar said, comparing the proposition to Australia's failed 1999 referendum on the issue of becoming a republic, as well as the Scottish independence vote. “We’re not at the stage where it is a thought-through model for the public," the Taoiseach added.
— Tara Mills (@taramillstv) June 19, 2023
Sinn Féin, currently polling as the most popular party across Ireland and Northern Ireland, has made repeated calls for a border poll referendum to take place soon, claiming that a majority of people across the island would support it.
However, opinion polls in the North still show that a significant majority would reject Irish unification if a border poll were to take place. Polls similarly show that, while there is an aspiration towards unity among the majority in the Republic, the proposal might also fail if put to a vote now.
Tara Mills responded to the Taoiseach’s statement by asking if delaying the border referendum was “kicking the can down the road.” She pointed out that Sinn Féin became the largest political party in Northern Ireland's local councils after the recent local election across the border.
At #NewsXchange Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterates he wants to see a united Ireland but questions whether a border poll/referendum is what’s needed right now. Is this ‘kicking the can down the road’ asks Tara Mills @EBU_HQ @NewsXchange pic.twitter.com/8XwO86AK87
— Colleen Murrell🦘🇪🇺🇮🇪🇧🇪🇬🇧🇫🇷😎 (@ivorytowerjourn) June 19, 2023
Mills also asked if the Taoiseach’s preference for holding back on any referendum might due to the necessary collaboration with Sinn Féin that would be required of the Irish government.
Leo Varadkar explained that, in his view, a united Ireland would only prosper if “it was endorsed by convincing majorities” in both jurisdictions.
On the same issue, the Taoiseach had previously made the observation that "50 per cent plus one... is not a recipe for success."
The Taoiseach also made clear his determination, as party leader, that Fine Gael would not work with Sinn Féin in Government. He attributed SF's current popularity to “dominating the other opposition parties.”
Varadkar also dismissed Mill's suggestion that Sinn Féin may soon lead governments both North and South, clarifying that it was "strictly only a possibility."
“Things change once an election is called and public opinion resets," he said. "It can reset for you or against you. You never really know until it happens.
“To form a government in the proportional system," the Taoiseach added, "you need to have about 50% of the vote. The reason why we have this three party coalition of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens is because our combined support was just over 50% in the election. Now, Sinn Féin is doing well in opinion polls but it’s low 30s, it’s well short of the 50% that you’d need to form a government.”
The News Xchange interview touched on a range of issues including the threatened rise of the far-right in Ireland, personality-focused news and Irish military neutrality.