Saturday 19 January 2019

Varadkar: Northern Ireland should be the 'best of both worlds'

Taoiseach was speaking at the launch of Féile an Phobail in Belfast

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor

NORTHERN Ireland should be the “best of both worlds” by taking from the Republic and the UK, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the launch of Féile an Phobail in Belfast.

Mr Varadkar, who faced criticised by DUP leader Arlene Foster for attending the event, said it was “exactly what was needed” in the city.

Critics say it has helped celebrate IRA activities over the decades, including a talk planned for this year by the leaders of ‘The Great Escape’, which saw 38 prisoners breakout from Long Kesh.

But the Taoiseach said: “The world has changed a lot in the last 30 years. This city has changed a lot in the last 30 years, notwithstanding the problems we still have.”

The Taoiseach was met on the Falls Road by a small group of anti-abortion protesters who shouted “repeal the 26” and “show us your socks” as he arrived.

Once inside Mr Varadkar was given a standing ovation from around 200 invited guests.

He said: “It’s great to see this event open to all of the communities in Northern Ireland, including the new communities who have come to Northern Ireland.”

Féile was founded at the height of the Troubles in 1988 and has traditionally been seen as a ‘Republican’ festival.

But Mr Varadkar said it was now “a genuine festival of the people”.

Referring to visit to the headquarters of the Orange Order earlier today, he said: “It reminded me that there are many different strands that make up the tapestry of Irish history. Our history depends on valuing and respecting all of those traditions.”

He also told the audience that the Irish government will do everything possible in the Brexit negotiation to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“Everyone born here will continue to have the right to be an Irish citizen and therefore a member of the European Union and have all of the benefits that come with that,” he said.

And in a thinly veiled rebuke to the protesters outside, he said “any right or freedom” afforded to people living in the Republic or in Great Britain should also be given to residents of Northern Ireland.

To applause, he said: “In many ways, Northern Ireland should be the beset of both worlds. The best of Britain and the best of Ireland – but very often it’s not.”

Online Editors

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