(Bloomberg) -- Ireland’s next government should make reunification a political objective, according to former Prime Minister Leo Varadkar. 

“What I hope we’ll see happen in the next government, no matter which parties are in it, is that that we’ll see what is a long standing political aspiration toward unification become a political objective,” Varadkar said at an event in Belfast on Saturday. 

The issue of a united Ireland, long an aspirational idea for Irish governments, has been brought to the fore in recent months with the appointment of a Sinn Fein first minister in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein, which holds the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, campaigns to reunite the island and its leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said in March that a united Ireland is “within touching distance” and that a border poll — the mechanism to gauge backing for reunification set out in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement — could be held by 2030. 

Varadkar, who suddenly departed from office just a few months ago, said that he believes a border poll needs to be held only “when the conditions are right.” 

“I don’t just want there to be a united Ireland, I want it to be a huge success. And I think one of the most important things that we need to do is to make sure that we maximize support for that,” he said. 

While Sinn Fein’s support has grown in Northern Ireland, a poll in February showed more people in the region would vote to remain part of the UK if a border poll was held at that point in time. The LucidTalk survey found that some 49% were in favor of staying in the UK with 39% choosing Irish unity. 

Meanwhile, a general election must be held in the Republic of Ireland by March 2025. Sinn Fein had been leading polls until recent months in the Republic of Ireland and it gained less support than expected in recent local and European Parliament elections. 

One issue of contention is the potential cost of reunifying the island. A study published in April estimated that Irish unity would require large tax rises and cuts to public expenditure. However, Varadkar said that he doesn’t “buy the idea that it would cost €20 billion ($21 billion) a year or anything close to that.”

A united island will be “an economic success” if the business and trade policies in the Republic of Ireland are applied in Northern Ireland. He suggested that the next government could set up a fund to pay for the transition, similar to a sovereign wealth fund announced last year to protect the economy from future downturns. 

The government “could start setting aside some of the surplus to prepare for that transition period,” Varadkar said. “A united Ireland economy is going to be stronger than the sum of the two parts. But there would be a cost in the interim period and we should prepare for that.”

Varadkar said that a Labour government in the UK, which is holding a general election next month, could be “helpful” for Ireland as they would be “more even handed” when it comes to dealing with Northern Ireland. He added that they may “feel more of an attachment” to the Good Friday Agreement, the deal that brokered peace in the region.

--With assistance from Olivia Fletcher.

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