Wilful or otherwise, there’s been a degree of misrepresentation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apparently unscripted, and qualified, comments at the MacGill Summer School yesterday – you can read the official version of his speech here.
As the initial reported quote demonstrated, his focus was not on preparing for the prospect of referendums on a united Ireland, but on seeking clarification of what would happen, in the new post-Brexit world, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote.
Because if that possibility were to happen, you would have Northern Ireland wishing to leave the United Kingdom, not being a member of the European Union, and joining the Republic which will be a member of the EU.
That is arguably more of a concern now than when the Belfast Agreement was signed in 1998 because, post-Brexit, with Northern Ireland no longer in the European Union, different international treaties and agreements will apply to the two separate jurisdictions on this island.
As Enda Kenny pointed out in his speech, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about the final arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU
We recognise that detailed contingency planning for a Brexit is particularly challenging because we do not yet know the precise arrangements, or the timescale for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, and we don’t know what the new relationship between the UK and the EU will be.
But, contrary to the mutterings from some, both the British and Irish Governments have stated their commitment to seeking to maintain the Common Travel Area through the negotiations with the EU.
That’s likely to be one of the points Kenny would seek clarification on in discussions on the situation post-unification referendums – with both the EU and the UK. Another would be maintaining Ireland’s exemptions from Schengen. And it kind of makes sense to seek that clarification during the forthcoming negotiations.
But what he would, primarily, be concerned with is ensuring that any new state emerging after unification would not be seen by the EU as a successor state.
Because a successor state could be required to renegotiate all those treaties, all over again.
Speaking to the audience at the summer school, he said he had “not favoured the holding of a border poll” because the necessary conditions, set out under the Good Friday Agreement did not exist.
However, he added that the forthcoming negotiations should foresee the possibility that support for joining the Republic “in an all-island situation” could grow in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit.
He added: “It may be, in the eyes of some, a fanciful theory but who knows what happens in 10, 20 years time?”
The taoiseach also referred to the reunification of Germany as an example of how the process could be considered.
“In the same way as it was possible for the former East Germany to be associated with West Germany, and not to have to go through a very long and tortuous process to join the European Union – and these negotiations should take these kinds of things into account as well,” Mr Kenny said. [added emphasis]
However, in the absence of any serious objections from other EU states, that clarification shouldn’t take long.
Of course, the unified Germany was able to claim to be a ‘continuing state’, rather than a successor, in part because they opted for the minimum constitutional change.