Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has faced backlash after telling the BBC last week that a 70% yes vote from people in Northern Ireland was needed for a United Ireland.
Speaking to the program, Spotlight, Varadkar said he, "wouldn't like us to get to the point whereby we are changing the constitutional position here in Northern Ireland on a 50% plus one basis".
He continued, “One of the best things about the Good Friday Agreement is that it did get very strong cross-border support – that’s why there was a 70% vote for it. I don’t think that there would be a 70 % vote for a united Ireland in the morning, for example, or anything remotely to that.”
His remarks however drew a withering response from nationalist politicians on both sides of the border.
Mark Durkan, a former leader of the pro-unity SDLP, tweeted that, “Parity of esteem for 2 equally legitimate aspirations cannot entail unequal thresholds for the sensitively achieved #GFA [Good Friday Agreement] consent precept.”
He continued, “any other understanding would not have been agreed then. Nor should one be dubiously or dangerously inferred now.”
Sinn Féin were also unhappy with the Taoiseach’s statement.
“Leo Varadkar is legally wrong to seek to cast doubt as to whether a 50%-plus-one vote would be sufficient to secure a United Ireland. His comments are also politically dangerous as they pertain to the central basis on which the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed,” Matt Carthy, who chairs the party’s United Ireland project team, said.
“Mr Varadkar’s comments will be greeted with disdain by many people across this island as he does not seek to apply the same criteria to maintain Partition.“He is saying that the rights of nationalists are are less than those of those favouring the Union.”
Article 3 of the Irish Constitution makes clear that, "that a united Ireland shall be brought about only by peaceful means with the consent of a majority of the people, democratically expressed, in both jurisdictions in the island."
But his comments were endorsed by a former Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament, now member of the House of Lords, Lord Kilcooney who said support for nationalist parties does not equate to support for Irish unity.
Catholics, he told the Derry Journal, vote for Sinn Féin or the SDLP for “reasons of community division and not because they actually want a united Ireland”.“Assuming we were wrong on this, he continued, “and there was a 50.1% in favour of a united Ireland, in no way would one dare have a united Ireland.
“Because the reality on the ground in Northern Ireland is there would be civil war.
“You cannot force Northern Ireland out of the UK by a one per cent majority. Can you imagine the loyalists in Belfast taking it quietly? I couldn’t.
“But anyway, I think these figures – 50.1% or 70% – are out of the question. In my opinion the cause of a united Ireland is fading within Northern Ireland.”