Sunday 18 August 2019

In harmony: Leo and Mary Lou move centre stage in Belfast

United front: Leo Varadkar heard sympathy and support from Mary Lou McDonald at Féile an Phobail last night. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
United front: Leo Varadkar heard sympathy and support from Mary Lou McDonald at Féile an Phobail last night. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

There was talk of "Brexit lunatics", "bendy bananas" and "bluster" as politicians from all sides engaged in an unprecedented blame game last night.

Yet there was an unexpected harmony between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald as they shared a stage in Belfast.

It was the DUP's Gregory Campbell who caused the biggest stir at Féile an Phobhail when he declared his party does not have to trust the new British prime minister.

"It's not a matter of trust. I don't have to trust Boris. And Boris doesn't have to trust us. But what we do have to do is business with each other," said the MP who is helping prop up the UK government.

Amid heckles from the audience on the Falls Road, Mr Campbell said his party did business to "bring benefit to every single person in this room" - a reference to the £1bn secured by the DUP in return for their confidence and supply arrangement. "I'll take a billion criticisms but everybody benefits," he said.

He said the EU needed to take responsibility for the looming Brexit chaos.

"Europe doesn't seem to get the message that people don't like this political project that is the EU."

Mr Varadkar said he didn't want to engage in blaming individuals but then reminded the audience that it was the UK which held a referendum.

"That wasn't our decision but it's one that we've been trying to deal with ever since," he said.

In reply, Ms McDonald warned the Taoiseach that the UK "is pointing its fingers at you, very, very wrongly".

She added: "This is the Tory boys and girls making a power grab to take that which resides in Brussels back for themselves."

Leader of the Alliance Party and recently elected MEP Naomi Long argued that the UK's dislike of the EU can be traced back to the "ridiculous articles" invented by Boris Johnson during his time as a journalist.

She said Theresa May had triggered Article 50 too soon but ultimately plumped for David Cameron to take the biggest share of the blame for the Brexit fiasco as "he was the most spectacularly irresponsible".

"What was doubly irresponsible was having dug the hole for everybody to fall into, just leave," Ms Long said.

There were strong clashes among the panel over the possibility of a Border poll.

Mr Varadkar argued Brexit should not be used as a catalyst for a referendum, adding it needs more thought.

"It can't just mean the six counties being absorbed into the 26. It would have to be a new state," he said.

Ms McDonald said the Irish Government needs to start doing "simple due diligence" to prepare the ground for a 32-county Ireland.

Irish Independent

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