Working towards Irish Unity




Varadkar’s twists and turns on Irish unity

Nothing has endeared Leo Varadkar to United Irelanders like his leaving office.

In a positive way, I hasten to add.

In a valedictory interview with RTE, the outgoing Taoiseach was emphatic when asked about the potential costs of a united Ireland, replying that it ‘should never be about money.’

He added: ‘If you believe in the unification of your country, three or 4% of GDP is a small price to pay.’

Not that it would cost anything like that, you understand, but it was a nice sentiment to bookend his time as Taoiseach.

The problem is that, over the years, Varadkar has been something of a chimera on the subject, bending in favour or against Irish unity, usually for some short-term tactical reason. 

For every time he has given a cautious thumbs-up, there’s an occasion when he’s poured cold water on the idea.

Here’s a flavour of what he’s said previously:

Back in October 2017, Leo was upsetting United Irelanders by hinting there should be a 70% qualifying threshold in a border poll: ‘I wouldn’t like us to get to the point whereby we are changing the constitutional position here in Northern Ireland on a 50 per cent plus one basis,’ he said.

In January 2018, he again questioned whether a simple majority was sufficient for achieving unity: ‘I very much follow the school of thought of the great John Hume, who talked less about a united Ireland and more about an agreed Ireland and a set of relationships that we can all be happy with. That’s the way it should be.’

In June 2018, he was clear that he was opposed to any prospect of a referendum ‘I think a border poll would be defeated and very divisive,’ he said flatly.

In June 2021, he told the Fine Gael ard fheis that Irish unity needed be a product of ‘the best of both jurisdictions’ and that parallel systems might be needed ‘because unification is not assimilation’ – which could even result in ‘maintaining two legal systems.’ He added that until there was ‘a clear proposition to put to the people’ that any border poll would be ‘premature.’

In July 2022, Varadkar was now clear that there was in fact no need for a qualifying majority: ‘My view is that if there is a simple majority for unification that should happen,’ he said.

In September 2023, he was more emphatic: still “I believe we are on the path to unification. I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.’

Well, at least he’s been heading in the right direction all along.

Kevin Meagher is author of ‘A United Ireland: Why Unification Inevitable and How it Will Come About’