As Britain Prepares to Leave EU, Irish Eye Unification

Ireland’s Enda Kenny for the first time raises the possibility of incorporating Northern Ireland into his country.

British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9, 2015
British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9, 2015 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Georgina Coupe)

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny has for the first time raised the option of unification with Northern Ireland, saying, “The discussion and negotiations that take place over the next period should take into account the possibility.”

Kenny’s liberal Fine Gael party hasn’t historically advocated the incorporation of British Northern Ireland into the Irish republic, but the European Union referendum last month has made the situation more fluid.

Northern Ireland, like Gibraltar and Scotland, voted largely to stay in the EU while majorities in England and Wales opted to leave.

German example

Kenny argued on Monday that if there are indications a majority of the people in Northern Ireland want to leave the United Kingdom in order to join Ireland and stay in the EU, it should trigger a separate referendum there.

“It may be, in the eyes of some, a fanciful theory but who knows what happens in ten, twenty years time?” he said.

Should Northern Ireland secede from the United Kingdom and join Ireland, Kenny argued it would remain in the EU throughout, on the same basis East Germany entered the bloc after German reunification in 1990.

Northern Irish divided

Gerry Adams, the leader of the Irish republicans in Northern Ireland, welcomed Kenny’s comments.

“In the context of the north being dragged out of the EU by England, there is now a greater opportunity to achieve this,” he said.

But Ian Paisley Jr., a hardline unionist in Westminster, ruled out a plebiscite. “It’s not going to happen,” he said.