Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about the potential of Irish unity during a discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, a US-based think tank, in New York City on Wednesday, September 20.

"There are people in Ireland and Northern Ireland that are pushing for a border poll, for an early border poll, for a date for it," the Taoiseach said.

"I think that's a bad idea. Opinion polls indicate that the majority of people in Northern Ireland still want to be part of the UK.

"If you look at any election, the number of people who vote for nationalist candidates who want a united Ireland, it's in around 40%. It's well short of where you'd want to be before you have a referendum.

"My biggest fear with a referendum is that it would both be divisive and defeated.

"And I know what happens when referendums are defeated. It can potentially put the issue off the agenda for a long period of time."

Varadkar continued: "It would be important to get the question right and to be able to answer any of the difficult questions. We're very far from that at the moment.

"One thing we have done as a government is set up a shared island unit, which operates from my department, Department of the Taoiseach, that is providing funding for a lot of cross-border cooperation.

"We're also doing a lot of research on things like how the health systems work differently, how education works differently, a lot of that work that hasn't been done in the past is being done now."

The Taoiseach's comments in New York, where he was attending engagements for the UN General Assembly, came less than two weeks after he said on RTÉ that he believes Ireland is "on the path to unification."

"I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime," Varadkar said during an interview with Bryan Dobson on RTÉ News at One on Thursday, September 7.

Varadkar offered his thoughts on Irish unity during the RTE interview after being asked about The Wolfe Tones, a 60-year-old Irish republican band that is enjoying a surge in popularity.

As the current head of Fine Gael, which describes itself as the "United Ireland Party," Varadkar's comments on Irish unity are neither new nor surprising.

He has, however, maintained for some time now that the time is not right for an Irish border poll.

Earlier this year, Varadkar said that a Friends of Sinn Féin advertisement placed in US newspapers that called for a date to be set for Unity Referendums was "unhelpful" as it was "not clear at all at the moment" that the people of Northern Ireland would support such a vote.

In July, a poll conducted by Amárach Research found that 24% of people in Ireland (ROI) believe there will be a United Ireland in the EU within ten years, a drop of seven points from last year, while 45% in Northern Ireland believe so. 

Earlier, in December, an Ipsos opinion poll found the majority of people in Northern Ireland would vote against a united Ireland if a border poll was held.

Elsewhere in his discussion in New York on Wednesday, the Taoiseach spoke about the ongoing absence of a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland.

"We have to allow the government and the DUP to try and get to the point where they can re-enter those institutions, but I don't think that can go on forever," Varadkar said.

"There does come a point when, I think, the Irish government and the British government have to talk about what we will do if institutions can't be reestablished.

"But that's very much a conversation that the two governments have to have first rather than have them in public.

"And also one thing I would reflect on, Northern Ireland works best when the British and Irish government, when Dublin and London, have a common strategy and work hand in hand," he said, adding, "That hasn't been the case for quite some time."

Varadkar also said that the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill, which became British law this week, is the "wrong approach" and that the Irish government was exploring potential legal responses.

You can watch the Taoiseach's conversation, hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, here: