SDLP leader proposes joint referendum on Irish unity

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The Independent Online
ANY AGREEMENT in the Northern Ireland talks process should be followed by referendums in both parts of the country, the SDLP leader, John Hume, said at the weekend.

This would reassure Unionists that Irish unity would come about only with the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, he said. It would also be significant from a republican viewpoint in allowing 'the people of Ireland as a whole' to express their views.

Renewing his appeal to the IRA to lay down its arms, he urged it to recognise that European integration has 'clearly changed the root of the Irish question'. It meant Britain was pooling its sovereignty with other EC states, and in effect this meant it no longer had a 'selfish' interest in remaining in Ireland.

That eliminated the IRA's traditional justification for its violence, he said. He noted the pledge of Peter Brooke, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that if a majority in Northern Ireland wanted unification Britain would facilitate that aspiration with legislation.

Speaking in Ballina, Co Mayo, the SDLP leader said the cost to both Northern Ireland and the republic of the troubles since 1969 was now at least Ir pounds 22bn ( pounds 20.9bn). The Irish Republic had suffered a loss of at least Ir pounds 6bn ( pounds 5.7bn). Human casualties since 1969 were 3,000 dead and 30,000 injured.

The overseas image of Ireland created by the troubles meant continuing devastating damage to inward investment. As a result of the violence a major US manufacturer had last week rejected two shortlisted Irish locations, one on each side of the border, from five sites it had chosen for a European base scheduled to create 3,200 jobs through a pounds 320m investment.