Irish leaders dismiss call for unity vote after Brexit

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny addresses journalists during a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, on June 24, 2016.
Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny addresses journalists during a press conference in Dublin, Ireland, on June 24, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

DUBLIN (AFP) - The leaders of Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland dismissed a call Friday for a vote on unification after Britain's shock decision to leave the European Union.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said there were "much more serious issues to deal with in immediate terms" and recalled parliament for an emergency session on Monday, national media reported.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster also dismissed the idea of a referendum on unification.

 
 

Northern Ireland voted in Thursday's historic referendum to stay in the EU, but Britain as a whole voted to leave the bloc.

The results prompted calls by the nationalist Sinn Fein party, which shares power in the government in Belfast, for a referendum in the province on uniting with the Republic of Ireland to the south.

"We have a situation where the north is going to be dragged out on the tails of a vote in England... Sinn Fein will now press our demand, our long-standing demand, for a border poll," national party chairman Declan Kearney said.

The possibility of such a vote is included in the 1998 peace accords that largely brought an end to three decades of violence in Northern Ireland over whether it should stay in Britain or join the republic.

But it requires that there is a serious shift in public support for unification, a test that Foster said "has not been met, so therefore I don't believe it will happen".

The Irish government said the decision by Britain to leave the EU had "very significant implications for Ireland", with which it shares a border.

In a speech, Kenny said he was "very sorry" at the decision but respected the will of the British people.

He said contingency plans had been drawn up on the potential impact on Ireland, particularly on trade.

The implications on the vote on relations with Northern Ireland "will be a particular priority", he said.

The contingency plans reveal that Irish diplomats will be instructed to emphasise that despite its strong ties to Britain, Ireland remains a member of the EU.