Thursday 21 February 2019

Varadkar enforces united Ireland stance ahead of crunch Brexit summit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has risked stoking Brexit tensions before a crunch EU summit by reinforcing Fine Gael's stance on a united Ireland.

During a major speech last night, the Taoiseach said Fine Gael was "the party of Europe" and the "united Ireland party".

His comments follow a week of divisive vitriol over the Northern Ireland border as the final deadline for Brexit negotiations looms.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster insisted she would oppose any attempt to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. Ms Foster sparked controversy when she said this "redline" issue was "blood red".

The DUP leader also suggested the Belfast Agreement could be altered as part of a final Brexit deal. The Taoiseach has firmly rejected this suggestion.

The Taoiseach's decision to use his party's traditional tagline of being a "united Ireland Party" at a Fine Gael dinner last night is sure to reignite tensions with the DUP.

The Taoiseach also used the speech to criticise Sinn Fein's economic policies ahead of Brexit. He said he was concerned that Sinn Fein was "proposing to increase borrowing when we should be reducing debt, making no provision for a rainy day with Brexit around the corner".

"They are promising everything to everyone and they are promising to do it all now. But we're not fooled. They seek to buy your vote using your credit card to pay for it. We know borrowed money has to be repaid and with interest," he added.

"We know those policies will put Ireland back on the road to recession and austerity and we won't allow that."

Asked by Sunday Independent if now was a suitable time to be making a virtue of pushing for a united Ireland, Mr Varadkar replied: "It's the description of our party. It's actually our party name. We are 'Fine Gael, the United Ireland Party'."

He said people should look at his statement "in the round".

"We've always taken the view that we have to unite people first.

"We absolutely fully support the principle of consent. We supported from the 1960s or 1970s, long before it was in the Good Friday Agreement."

On Brexit, Mr Varadkar said the next two weeks would be crucial in securing a deal.

He said the EU Summit in Brussels on October 18 would be a "chance to take stock".

"I'd be hopeful that at that point there'd be some decisive progress and we'll have an agreement by November."

Sunday Independent

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