Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar outlines his vision of a United Ireland – something Brexit Britain might hasten

The possibility of a United Ireland was unthinkable a few years, now it’s being discussed openly by both Nationalists and Loyalists, albeit with different levels of enthusiasm.

Even the keenest advocates of reunification accept it’s still a long way off, but changing circumstances mean it’s no longer just a pipe dream. Even Northern Ireland’s former DUP First Minister Peter Robinson says Loyalists need to take it seriously and prepare for a possible referendum on the issue.

The wind of change began with the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago that brought much needed peace and stability. It reduced the tension with Nationalists and Unionists being given the right to identify as Irish or British or both. The border came down allowing checkpoint free travel between North and South, with the only noticeable difference being the speed limits changing from mph to kph.

The increased trade and mobility has blurred the divisions between North and South, as has ever increasing integration in the European Union that has seen large numbers of East European migrants coming to work in Ireland on both sides of the border.

Demographics have also changed so that while Loyalists are still in the majority, it’s now a very narrow margin and could swing the other way over the next 10 years.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union could prove pivotal in moves towards a United Ireland. During the Leave referendum, 56% of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain. They are only being taken of the EU because their votes have been swallowed up by the large majority in England in favour of leaving.

We discuss these changing circumstances here: British blundering is making a United Ireland a real possibility as Brexit looks set to backfire

All these factors and more have merged to put a United Ireland back on the political radar, sometimes prompting politicians to make surprising statements, such as Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald suggesting that she would be prepared to have a debate on Ireland re-joining the British Commonwealth, it that was something that would bring comfort to Loyalists.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also entered the debate, in typical conciliatory style, in an interview with joe.ie

He said: “I think, at the outset, a United Ireland worth having, is one whereby people are united, whereby everyone in the country would feel they’re part of the country, a country in which nobody feels they’ve been left out and that’s one thing I would always think when people talk about United Ireland in the traditional sense, bringing Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland together into a 32 county state.

“I would not like to visit on unionists in Northern Ireland what, I believe, was visited on nationalists and Catholics in Northern Ireland – people feeling that this wasn’t their state, that they weren’t really part of it, that they were bounced into it or left in it against their will.

Interested in discovering more about your Irish roots? This free online genealogy course with Strathclyde University shows you how to trace your family tree and also covers the use of DNA testing in genealogical research.

“That’s why, notwithstanding the difficulties in the last year or two with Brexit, I always try to be very sensitive to that fact, that there is a different tradition on our island, a different nationality, people who feel themselves to be British, and they are British and we need to respect that, and I don’t think if we ever had a United Ireland into the future that it could be just a bit like East Germany and West Germany – the Republic taking over the north.”

A United Ireland is probably a long way off, but the fact that it is being taken seriously at all is an indicator how far we’ve come since the end of the Troubles.

United Ireland is the only possible winning scenario after Britain leaves the EU, says new study

100 years ago the British put a border across Ireland – now it may bring down their government

Taoiseach says some British annoyed Ireland stood up for itself and won’t follow UK lead over Brexit

Two thirds of Irish people want a United Ireland

Sinn Féin ready to discuss Ireland joining the British Commonwealth

Interested in discovering more about your Irish roots? This free online genealogy course with Strathclyde University shows you how to trace your family tree and also covers the use of DNA testing in genealogical research.

Leading Irish politician says he longs for a United Ireland

Did you know?

‘The Irish Robin Hood’ - Redmond O’Hanlon is a legendary figure in Ireland. His ancestors had been a powerful family up until the 17th century, when their land was taken during the Catholic uprising and the Cromwellian invasion. So he became a highwayman. Find out more.