Brexit may have brought the prospect of an Irish unity referendum closer, a report has noted.
The fifth Peace Monitoring Report says, while the implications of the impact of Brexit on the Northern Ireland peace process remain uncertain, they are “likely to prove far-reaching”.
It states that the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union has further strained relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, as well as souring relations between the British and Irish Governments.
The report notes this has made the task of restoring powersharing government at Stormont more difficult.
The devolved government collapsed in January 2017 following a break down in relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.
Numerous attempts to talks to resolve the impasse have been unsuccessful.
The report also finds that the potential date of a future referendum on Irish re-unification “may be sooner than might otherwise have been anticipated”.
“The debate around Brexit has moved the issue of holding a border poll further
up the political agenda,” the report notes.
The fifth Peace Monitoring Report quotes a LucidTalk poll which found if there was a referendum on the border, 45% would vote for Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, while 42% would vote for unification, and 13% remained undecided.
“These results were in line with a Lord Ashcroft poll in June 2018, which found that 49% of respondents were in favour of NI staying in the UK, 44% in favour of unification, and 7% don’t know,” the report stated.
Last year, former Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson sparked debate when he suggested that unionism should begin preparations so as to be ready for a border poll.
Mr Robinson said he did not think Northern Ireland would vote to leave the UK, but people should prepare for that possibility and accept the result.
Some in his own party criticised the remarks as “dangerous”.
The report, published by the Community Relations Council on Thursday, highlights what it described as “critical peace process issues at a key time for Northern Ireland”.
It notes that while for many the political fall-out from the RHI scandal caused the collapse of Stormont in January 2017, relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein had already been strained.
The report said the St Andrew’s Agreement involved a “level of vagueness” over areas of disagreement between the two parties, such as the Irish language, but that the “seeds of discord had been sown”.
Turning to Northern Ireland’s troubled past, the report notes that it has “proved to be an impossible challenge for politicians and policy makers to overcome”.
Community Relations Council chairman Peter Osborne said it is an important time for Northern Ireland, and warned against “complacency”.
“We must understand there is no inevitable forward flow to our peace process,” he said.
“It needs constant work and complacency is its worst enemy during this period of uncertainty.
“It is an important time for Northern Ireland and we hope this report will feed in constructively and positively to the critical thinking needed about the way forward.”