Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has delivered a strongly pro-united Ireland speech at the opening of the Fine Gael ard fheis, saying that he believes “in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime”.
Mr Varadkar said in his online address that “the views of unionists must be acknowledged, understood and respected but no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future.
“We should be proud to say that unification is something we aspire to. It should be part of our mission as a party to work towards it. We can do so in many ways,” he said.
Mr Varadkar rejected what he called the “crude vision espoused by Sinn Féin”, which he described as “a cold form of republicanism, socialist, narrow nationalism, protectionist, anti-British, euro-critical, ourselves alone, 50 per cent plus one and nobody else is needed”.
Instead, he said, “unification must not be the annexation of Northern Ireland. It means something more, a new state designed together, a new constitution and one that reflects the diversity of a bi-national or multi-national state in which almost a million people are British. Like the New South Africa, a rainbow nation, not just orange and green.”
He said the Republic would need to change to accommodate unification.
“We have to be willing to consider all that we’d be willing to change – new titles, shared symbols, how devolution in the North would fit into the new arrangements, a new Senate to strengthen the representation of minorities, the role and status of our languages, a new and closer relationship with the United Kingdom,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said there were many questions about how a united Ireland would work, and until they were answered, holding a Border poll would be premature. However, he said, “we have a duty to engage with each other and others to find answers these questions. And that is what we intend to do.”
He said that Fine Gael should establish a branch in the North, one of the motions that delegates to the ard fheis will consider.
On the Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Varadkar said the Government appreciated the “the practical difficulties the protocol has caused for some in Northern Ireland and disturbance it has caused for unionists”.
However, he said opponents of the protocol had “not come forward with solutions that remove the need for checks while ensuring the single market is protected”.