Written answers

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Good Friday Agreement

Ruairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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51. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to recent polls (details supplied) which indicate growing support for Irish unity; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the result of the most recent poll conducted by a company in February 2020 indicates that the majority of persons in both jurisdictions support a Citizens' Assembly; if a Citizens' Assembly will be established to assess the impact of Irish unity and plan accordingly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3740/20]

Ruairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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61. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to recent polls (details supplied) which indicate growing support for Irish unity; if his attention has been further drawn to the result of the most recent poll conducted by companies in February 2020 which indicate that the vast majority of persons in both jurisdictions support a Citizens' Assembly; if he will establish a Citizens' Assembly to assess the impact of Irish unity and plan accordingly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3906/20]

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 61 together.

The full implementation and effective operation of the Good Friday Agreement is a priority for this Government.

The principle of consent and the possibility of change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland are fundamental elements of the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people of this island North and South.

The approach of any Irish Government in relation to Irish unity is of course guided by Article 3 of the Constitution, as amended by the people in 1998. 

Under the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish and British Governments “recognise the legitimacy of whatever choice is freely exercised by a majority of the people of Northern Ireland with regard to its status, whether they prefer to continue to support the Union with Britain or a sovereign united Ireland” and should such a choice be made in the future, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and support in their respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.

The Government respects everyone’s right on this island to make the case for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland - whether nationalist, unionist or neither. The Good Friday Agreement - and the two sovereign Governments - explicitly recognise and validate the legitimacy of both of these constitutional positions, which are deeply held.

The holding of a referendum in this jurisdiction is connected with the calling of a border poll, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, in Northern Ireland. The decision to hold such a poll in Northern Ireland rests with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  

I am aware of the opinion polls to which the Deputy refers but, on the balance of evidence at present, this Government does not believe it likely that a border poll in the near future would result in a decision on the part of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland in favour of constitutional change.

In these circumstances, it is the Government’s clear view that such a poll would only increase uncertainty and division at an already difficult and sensitive time.

The Taoiseach has stated that the Government will continue to listen to and engage with the views of everyone on this island, both on rights issues and on the constitutional future that they wish to see for Northern Ireland – whether nationalist, unionist or neither.

These are extremely important issues which naturally require very careful and serious consideration and the Government will continue to engage and reflect on them.

Over the last year, in response to the range of concerns arising from Brexit, this Government has focused on securing ratification and implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement to allow for an ordered Brexit, including a smooth transition period; preparing for the next phase of Brexit negotiations dealing with the future EU-UK relationship; securing the return to effective operation of the power-sharing Executive and Assembly and the North South Ministerial Council; and, ensuring the protection of the Good Friday Agreement and the achievements of the Peace Process, as the UK leaves the EU. 

Following the result of the Brexit referendum, an All Island Civic Dialogue was established and has met on a number of occasions. We are committed to maintaining the all-island civic dialogue that has worked in the context of Brexit to date but also potentially as a useful structure to discuss future challenges to relationships on the island of Ireland. It should also be noted that the Government has recently established a Citizen’s Assembly to bring forward proposals to advance gender equality, the first meeting of which was held in January. Following this, it is planned that a new Assembly will consider the best method of local government for Dublin.

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