EU Referendum

Reality Check: Will there be a referendum for a united Ireland?

Martin McGuinness saying: "I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a 'border poll' to be held."

The claim: Following the UK's decision to leave the EU, Northern Ireland could hold a border poll on the reunification of Ireland.

Reality Check verdict: The circumstances required to trigger a reunification vote have not been met. We cannot predict whether the UK's decision to leave the EU will change this. It seems unlikely - recent opinion polls suggest reunification would not be supported by the majority of people in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has voted to remain in the EU Referendum by a majority of 56% to 44%. But the UK as a whole has voted to leave the European Union.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to share a land border with another EU member state.

In response to the result, Northern Ireland's Deputy first Minister said: "The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a 'border poll' to be held."

But the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has dismissed the idea of a 'border poll', or referendum on Irish reunification, saying the circumstances for calling such a poll did not exist.

"The Good Friday Agreement is very clear that the circumstances where the secretary of state is required to have a border poll is where there is reason to believe there would be a majority support for a united Ireland," she said,

So who is right?

The Good Friday agreement states: "If the wish expressed by a majority in such a poll is that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom and form part of a united Ireland, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament such proposals to give effect to that wish as may be agreed between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Government of Ireland."

But the most recent opinion polls we found suggested that the majority of people would not support that - with 44% of people saying they would like to remain part of the UK. Of those surveyed, 24% said they would vote for unity in 20 years.

In 2013, a BBC Spotlight opinion poll found a 65% to 17% majority for Northern Ireland remaining in the UK.

Ireland was strongly in favour of the UK remaining a member of the European Union and it has been widely reported that it would be the second-most affected country in case of a Brexit because of the disruption of trade ties between the two countries.

But when asked about the prospect of a border poll, Taoiseach Enda Kenny would not be drawn. He said: "We have more serious issues to deal with in the immediate term and that is where our focus is."

However, the UK's decision to leave the EU will have implications for policing, border security, trade and immigration. But what these implications may be, and whether they will influence public opinion towards a 'border poll' cannot be predicted.


Read more: The facts behind claims in the EU debate


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