Taoiseach offers olive branch to unionists over Irish Government Brexit statements
TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has moved to reassure Northern Ireland unionists that there is “no hidden agenda” behind his attempts to restore the power-sharing executive.
Speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington, Mr Varadkar offered an olive branch to unionists by saying he understood the concerns of the community over statements made by the Irish Government during Brexit talks.
The Taoiseach also revealed his Government is willing to table proposals aimed at resolving the more than year-long impasse on restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly. Before Christmas, the Taoiseach clashed with Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster over Brexit.
At the Good Friday Agreement 20th Anniversary event, Mr Varakdar said Ulster-Scot Protestants are an “integral, respected and valued” part of the history of the island of Ireland.
“I would like to speak to the representatives of unionism here tonight and to unionists at home in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“I know that you are concerned - perhaps worried - maybe even angry, at recent political developments.
“I recognise that recent statements and actions by Irish nationalists, including the Irish Government, about Brexit have been seen as unwelcome or intrusive.
“If that is the case, I want to make it clear that it certainly was not our intention,” he added.
The Taoiseach said his only objective is ensuring the principles of the Good Friday Agreement are protected.
He said Governments in London and Dublin should redouble their efforts in the coming months to restore the Northern Ireland institutions. He said this could include proposals from both administrations.
“I believe the period after Easter should see a redoubled effort on the part of both Governments and all of the parties in Northern Ireland to seek agreement on the restoration of the institutions,” he said
“It is my view that this will require very close co-operation and leadership from the British and Irish Governments.
“It may be that again the Governments will have to table our own proposals to help the parties break the deadlock.
“That is how we made progress in the past,” he added.
Also at the event former US President Bill Clinton has said the signing of the Good Friday Agreement was one of the happiest days of his political career.
Mr Clinton was speaking via a video message at the event in Washington D.C.
He said the anniversary should inspire political leaders to recommit to the spirit of the agreement which ended years of violence in Northern Ireland.
The Democrat politician said none of the issues at the centre of the political deadlock in the North are an excuse for not strengthening the peace deal.
Other speakers at the event included Former US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Former Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and US Representatives Peter King and Richie Neale.