Friday 24 May 2019

Leo Varadkar in Belfast: 'I see myself as a neighbour, not an invader'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Belfast Photo: Kevin Doyle
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Belfast Photo: Kevin Doyle
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told Orangemen in West Belfast that he sees himself "as a neighbour, not an invader".

Small crowds gathered to cheer for Mr Varadkar as he became the first sitting Taoiseach to visit the Museum of Orange Heritage.

Speaking after he warned that now was not the time to be talking about a border poll, saying such a vote would inevitably be divisive and end in failure.

"I definitely don't think the conditions are right now," he said.

On Brexit, Mr Varadkar described the proposals issued by London on the so-called 'backstop' to prevent a hard border as a "small step forward".

However, he added that it "falls short" of what would be required to reassure people on the island that a border could not re-emerge in the future.

The Taoiseach insisted the 2021 deadline set by the UK government for a resolution to the border issue could not be a definitive one.

"Just putting off a hard border isn't enough," he said.

Mr Varadkar was also asked about a leaked tape of UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson complaining about the impact Northern Ireland is having on the Brexit negotiations.

Mr Johnson is heard saying that it's "just beyond belief" that the UK government is "allowing the tail to wag the dog in this way".

"We’re allowing the whole of our agenda to be dictated by this folly," he said.

In response Mr Varadkar repeatedly insisted that he did not want to comment on internal wrangling in Theresa May's Cabinet.

"When I want to know the view of the British government, I listen to the Prime Minister," he said.

However, he said Mr Johnson's comments were inaccurate, noting that he had previously compared the Irish border crossing to moving between districts in London.

The Taoiseach said it would be "absolutely beneficial" for the Foreign Secretary to visit Northern Ireland and see the situation for himself.

"I listen to the Prime Minister and she understands it," he added.

Master of Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, Edward Stevenson welcomed the Taoiseach's visit, saying it was a "significant moment".

He said it was important "to acknowledge the importance of the Taoiseach paying his respects to those members of our institution, many of whom served in the security forces, who were murdered by terrorists".

"Such a gesture should not be underestimated and will, I believe, be deeply appreciated by many relatives of the deceased and the Orange membership as a whole."

Earlier in the day Mr Varadkar paid a private visit to Ian Paisley's widow, Baroness Eileen Paisley.

This evening he will launch Féile an Phobhail in West Belfast. His decision to attend the festival has met some criticism as it includes a number of events that are viewed as celebrating the IRA.

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