Leaving the European Union will “seriously undermine” the Good Friday Agreement which ended 30 years of sectarian conflict, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has warned.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Sunday Herald, the Irish republican Sinn Féin politician spoke of his fears for the future of his country after Brexit.

He revealed that the next meeting of the influential British-Irish Council will be brought forward from the autumn to July 22, “diaries permitting”, so that heads of state – including the Prime Minister, Ireland’s Taoiseach and the leaders of the UK’s devolved administrations - can hold talks on the implications of the referendum result.

McGuinness also offered his backing to “accomplished and highly-respected politician” Nicola Sturgeon, as the First Minister attempts to keep Scotland in the EU.

Like Scotland, a clear majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and politicians like McGuinness, who was opposed to Brexit, have been left to deal with the aftermath.

The Republic of Ireland is a member of the European Union throwing up the possibility of the return of a “hard border” with the north.

“I have huge concerns, as do many people within our community in the north, that we could feasibly see a hard border,” said McGuinness, who is a former Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) leader,.

“The last thing we want to see, given the success of the peace process, is the return of installations along the Irish border.

“It would be very damaging for trade, very damaging for tourism, and also very damaging for all those people who supported the Good Friday Agreement.

“I think that what is happening now in terms of the Brexit vote does represent a serious undermining of the Good Friday Agreement.”

In the hours after the EU referendum McGuinness seized on the result to call for a vote on the reunification of Ireland.

He recognises he is unlikely to win the support of unionists in the Northern Ireland Assembly – or indeed the Conservative government - but yesterday he underlined his desire for a referendum.

McGuinness said: “We are Irish Republicans and we believe that a Brexit vote strengthens the argument that we have made that the people in London, the people in Westminster, don’t care tuppence for the people here in the north of Ireland when they take the decision to have a referendum on the European Union – which has been so beneficial to the people of the north: unionists, nationalists and republicans – and they do it effectively on an agenda driven by a little Englander mentality and the extreme right wing of the Tory party.

“It has such huge consequences for us on the island of Ireland that we believe that (a vote on reunification) is the way forward now in the light of this decision.”

Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny intervened on behalf of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she battles to secure Scotland’s place in the EU.

He met Sturgeon at the British-Irish Council meeting in Glasgow in June when she asked him in the case of an overall leave vote to raise her “very strong belief that they should not be dragged out of the EU having voted to stay”.

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness “endorsed” this position but added: “I would also say to Enda Kenny that as he is willing to respect the vote of the people of Scotland to see their future in the EU and to remain, he must also respect the vote of the people of the north of Ireland who also voted to remain and see their future in the EU.”

McGuinness also revealed that the next British-Irish Council meeting has been “brought forward” several months to July following a vote for Brexit.

“Diaries permitting, it will take place on July 22. That certainly represents the seriousness with which the British-Irish Council views a leave vote.”

The prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence now looms and before the 2014 vote the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland suggested Scotland had embarked on a path that “inevitably” leads to independence.

Yesterday, he again offered support for separation.

“I have huge respect for Nicola Sturgeon and for the SNP,” McGuinness said. “Obviously, I meet Nicola regularly at the various British-Irish Council meetings.

“She is a very accomplished, very intelligent, highly-respected politician - not just in Scotland but throughout these islands.

“I think the judgement (on a second Scottish independence referendum) is very much in Nicola’s hands and whatever way she decides to take that forward I’m sure she will have our full support.”

The politician also raised the possibility of a new union if there was an independent Scotland and a reunified Ireland.

He said: “If that came to pass we would all be very open to working very closely with Scotland, because we’re Celts and because we effectively aspire to the same things – we’re not going to invade anybody else’s country and we’re willing to move forward with a very respectful and indeed hopefully economically beneficial situation.

“There are many things we can do with Scotland and indeed with others which would be hugely beneficial to both Scotland and to Ireland so I’m absolutely up for all of that.”

The Sunday Herald also asked to speak to Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Northern Ireland First Minister and the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster.

A spokeswoman for the Taoiseach said: “Unfortunately it will not be possible to fit this interview into the Taoiseach's schedule.”

The DUP did not respond.

British-Irish Council Office Manager Patrick Crolla said: “As agreed at the British-Irish Council summit in Glasgow in June, the options for an early re-convening of the council are being considered by heads of administration, in light of the outcome of the EU referendum.”