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Starmer ‘committed to principles of Good Friday Agreement’ over Irish unity

First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald (right), address the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, following a meeting with Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (Liam McBurney/PA)
First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Fein’s President Mary Lou McDonald (right), address the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, following a meeting with Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Keir Starmer has said he is committed to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement when considering the possibility of a referendum on Irish unity.

His remarks came as Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald repeated her prediction that there would be a border poll by 2030, adding the issue of Irish reunification has “has never been more alive”.

However, DUP leader Gavin Robinson said there was no mood in Northern Ireland for engaging in a “neverending, repetitive psychodrama” about a border poll.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer leaves Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer leaves Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Prime Minister met with political parties at Stormont on Monday.

Ms McDonald, whose party last week emerged as the largest Northern Ireland party at Westminster following the General Election, said she used her meeting to urge Sir Keir not to “bury his head in the sand” on the question of Irish unity.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement sets out that the current Northern Ireland Secretary can call a border poll when he or she believes a majority of people in the region support a change to the constitutional status.

Sir Keir has previously stated that the issue of a united Ireland is not on his horizon and at the weekend the new Northern Ireland Secretary Hilary Benn said he believed the prospect of a vote on Irish unity is “off into the distance”.

Asked about the potential of a border poll when he spoke to the media, the Prime Minister said: “This is provided for by the Good Friday Agreement, the framework is set out and I am absolutely committed to the Good Friday Agreement.

“Today is a recommitment to that and to the approach and the role of the UK Government in that as the honest broker.

“I am the Prime Minister for the whole of the UK, elected into office just a few days ago.

“But to reaffirm the importance of the principles of the Good Friday Agreement is part and parcel of why I am here today.”

Ms McDonald said last week’s election result reflected again that “all is changed here and changing”.

She said: “We have reiterated our view to the Prime Minister that it is foolhardy to bury your head in the sand on this question.

“We have reminded him that the provision for referendums is at the very heart of the Good Friday Agreement.

“Yes, we need to see progress on this, yes we need if people talk about conditions for a referendum, let’s have clarity on what is meant by that.

DUP leader Gavin Robinson
DUP leader Gavin Robinson laughed as he was asked about a border poll by 2030 (Liam McBurney/PA)

“This is a question that needs to be addressed by all of us.”

Asked if she was still aiming for a unity referendum to be held by 2030, the Sinn Fein president said: “Yes, yes it is.”

She added: “As we get into the detail of all of this with the British Government, as they set out their own thinking, I hope increasingly that they will amplify their points and offer more clarity as to what they mean when they say the condition is met, when it becomes apparent, well what makes this apparent? How does this become manifest to their way of thinking?

“We look forward to engaging with that, but what we can say without fear of contradiction is that the issue of reunification and referendums has never been more alive in Irish political discourse right across the island.”

DUP leader Gavin Robinson laughed when the 2030 date was put to him.

He said: “We have heard plenty like that before and we’re still waiting.”

Mr Robinson added: “Keir Starmer is a unionist, Keir Starmer is somebody who has indicated a border poll is not on the horizon.

“Anybody who studies the outcome of the election on Thursday will see that the combined unionist vote still outstrips the combined nationalist vote.

“There is no mood for constitutional change, but more than that, there is no mood for engaging in this neverending, repetitive psychodrama when it is not where the people are.”