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Brexit shifts politics in Ireland as parties look north

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, now running as a Fine Gael candidate contesting the Dublin constituency for the European Parliament elections, canvasses for votes in Dublin, Ireland, May 20, 2019. Picture taken May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

When Britain voted to leave the European Union, few voters outside Northern Ireland thought about what it would mean for the British province.

Three years on, Northern Ireland is inching closer to holding a referendum of its own — on reunification with Ireland.

A united Ireland, and Northern Ireland’s withdrawal from the United Kingdom, remain distant prospects, and a unity referendum may not happen soon. But, as an unexpected consequence of Brexit, the political landscape is shifting.

The two largest parties in the Irish republic, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, both of whom ultimately favor a united Ireland, have expanded their political networks north of the border to position themselves for a possible “unity vote”.

Fine Gael, Ireland’s governing party, has also taken the unusual step of selecting one-time Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan as a candidate to run in the Dublin constituency in this week’s European elections.

“The unity debate has gained legs in the context of Brexit,” Durkan, a former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), one of Northern Ireland’s two main pro-unity parties, told Reuters while campaigning in the Irish capital.


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