EU leaders will discuss at a summit this weekend whether to back automatic membership for Northern Ireland after Brexit if it ever reunifies with Ireland, sources said on Friday.
Ireland is expected to ask the 27 European Union leaders to endorse the idea when they meet in Brussels on Saturday without Britain to adopt guidelines for Brexit negotiations.
"We expect Ireland to ask on Saturday for a statement to be added to the minutes of the European Council, which states that in case of a unification of the island in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement, the united Ireland would be a member of the EU," an EU Council source told AFP.
"We do not expect a change of the guidelines themselves, but only a statement to the minutes" of the meeting, the source said on condition of anonymity.
Britain's vote to leave the EU has raised a host of sensitive issues about the future of Northern Ireland, including the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement and the fate of the border with Ireland.
The historic peace accord, which ended decades of violence in the British province, includes provisions for Northern Ireland to reunify with the Republic in the future if it chooses to.
The EU says questions about Northern Ireland are among those that must be resolved as part of the Brexit divorce agreement before talks can begin on a future EU-UK trade deal.
The other key divorce issues the EU wants to settle are Britain's exit bill -- estimated by EU sources at 60 billion euros -- and the fate of three million EU citizens living in Britain, plus a million Britons living in the EU.
Brussels insisted that if added on Saturday a so-called "Kenny text" -- named after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny -- would not change the situation of Ireland or Northern Ireland.
"It would merely state the obvious, that a united Ireland would continue being a member of the EU," the EU Council source said.
"The EU does of course not take a stance on the possibility of a united Ireland. Should this question arise, it would be for the peoples of Ireland and Northern Ireland to decide in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement," the source added.
By contrast, the EU has said that Scotland would have to reapply to join the bloc if it voted for independence from Britain after Brexit.
The guidelines that the EU 27 are to adopt on Saturday take a much more general tone on Northern Ireland, saying that "flexible and imaginative solutions will be required, including with the aim of avoiding a hard border".