Saturday 21 October 2017

Varadkar claims he has 'nobody to call in the North' ahead of meeting

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to attend talks in the North on Friday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is due to attend talks in the North on Friday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has shot down accusations by the DUP that he is engaging in "megaphone" politics over the issue of Brexit as the diplomatic row between Dublin and Belfast intensified.

In a clear heightening of tensions ahead of scheduled talks on Friday, Mr Varadkar claimed that he had "nobody to call" in a position of authority in the North because of the absence of an executive.

He also confirmed that he would attend a special breakfast to mark 'Gay Pride' on Saturday, saying he would not issue "an apology" for doing so.

"I won't be able to attend the parade because I want to get back to Croke Park for the (Dublin) match, but I will attend the pride breakfast on Saturday morning in Belfast to express my support for equality, for the law, Catholics, protestants, non-religion, women, gay people and straight people," Mr Varadkar said.

"I won't be making any apology for that to anyone really."

Mr Varadkar was asked about the city's Gay Pride parade in the context that the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster have been accused of blocking same-sex marriage in the North.

He previously challenged Ms Foster over the issue at a meeting in Dublin. Mr Varadkar made the remarks in Dublin's Temple Bar, where he was flanked by the only other gay member of Cabinet, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Varadkar cited the strong relationships he shared with the first ministers in Wales and Scotland, Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon. But he said the same cannot be said for the North.

"When it comes to Belfast I have nobody to ring and so the best thing the Northern parties can do is get back around the table as soon as possible and, having done so, continue to uphold the four principles they agreed with us, one of those was that we would work together to preserve the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people," he said.

Earlier, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson urged Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael to "step back" from what his party perceives as an increasingly robust stance on the UK's EU exit.

"What won't solve the problem is megaphone diplomacy from Dublin," the senior DUP politician told BBC Radio Ulster. "I think the Taoiseach needs to recognise that going back to the politics of the 1970s and 1980s in Anglo Irish relations isn't going to help anyone."

The Lagan Valley MP said any failure to reach co-operation with Dublin could result in a hard Border being developed.

"We have to co-operate here. A solution has to be one that is agreed and that means Dublin has to have an input," he said.

"If Dublin refuses to co-operate on this inevitably we are going to end up in a different arrangement that could result in some sort of hard Border.

"Now that's not in Dublin's interests - the Irish economy would suffer greatly if we can't find an agreed way forward."

But Mr Varadkar rejected the criticism levelled at him.

"I have never been involved in megaphone politics. I expressed the position of the Government in relation to Brexit, that is my role as Taoiseach to express the position of the Government publicly just as people from the DUP, Sinn Féin and any party in Northern Ireland are free to give their position and give it forcibly," Mr Varadkar said.

"But I look forward to being in the North on Friday and having a chance to meet the parties."

Irish Independent

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