Sunday 16 June 2019

Taoiseach insists Brexit comments on the North were not meant to insult Fianna Fáil

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the Government Press Centre in Dublin after the European Commission announced that
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the Government Press Centre in Dublin after the European Commission announced that "sufficient progress" has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
John Downing

John Downing

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he meant no insult to Fianna Fáil in comments about the Brexit border deal.

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, took issue with comments by Mr Varadkar that “no Irish Government will ever again leave Northern nationalists and Northern Ireland behind.”

Mr Martin called for the comments to be withdrawn. “I regard that as an offensive comment on many levels,” Mr Martin said.

He told the Taoiseach the comments suggested he was more eager to promote his own government than to continue 40 years of consensus on the North as different Dublin governments strove for progress. He cited the various agreements from 1985 to 2006 which strove to ensure neither unionists nor nationalists were left behind.

The Fianna Fáil leader also argued that if governments in which Mr Varadkar had served in, showed half as much interest in Northern Ireland, then the current deadlock in the North could have been avoided.

But Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, welcomed the Taoiseach’s comments saying they acknowledged the reality of partition for most nationalists in the North. Mr Adams said he disliked the term Northern nationalist.

“You never hear of western, southern or eastern nationalists”, he said. But he welcomed the Taoiseach’s pledge that no Irish government would ever leave Northern nationalists behind.

The Taoiseach insisted he meant no offence. “I was not trying in any way to disparage or make any offensive remarks about any government of the past 20 years,” Mr Varadkar said.

He said good work was done by the government of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He added that Mr Martin had done “sterling work” on the North as minister for foreign affairs.

Mr Varadkar said he was pointing up a historical fact that Ireland was forced to accept partition in the 1920s. He said that it was Irish governments and the Oireachtas which erected border customs posts firstly, and later engaged in a divisive economic war which distanced Ireland further from Northern Ireland and Britain.

The Taoiseach concluded that it was “perhaps a matter for a historical symposium.”

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