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Saturday 17 March 2018

Taoiseach pleads for end to political stalemate in North

DUP leader Arlene Foster Photo: Collins
DUP leader Arlene Foster Photo: Collins
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will today move to end the hostility between the Government and the DUP as he appeals to all parties in the North to bring the long-running political stalemate to an end.

Mr Varadkar will use his visit to Belfast to issue a direct appeal to both the DUP and Sinn Féin to put their differences aside and re-establish a power-sharing arrangement at Stormont.

In a keynote speech at Queen's University, Mr Varadkar will warn that "every single aspect of life" in the North - from the Border and aviation to public services and fisheries - is at stake in the Brexit divorce talks.

The Fine Gael leader will also refer to the "differences and diversity" of people north and south, which he says makes the island strong as a whole.

"Our differences make us stronger and our diversity is our strength. That remains my view today as Taoiseach," Mr Varadkar is expected to say.

"We need to hear the voice of the elected representatives here in the North. We need the Executive, the Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British Irish Council up and running and acting in the interests of our people. We need that more than ever, and we need it now.

"The challenge in our generation is Brexit. The Brexit negotiations are well underway in Brussels. And, to quote Michel Barnier, 'the clock is ticking'.

"Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome - jobs and the economy, the Border, citizens rights, cross-Border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services, the list goes on."

The diplomatic tone set to be used by the Taoiseach is in stark contrast with some of his remarks about the approach being taken by the DUP to the Brexit issue.

Mr Varadkar is believed to have infuriated DUP leader Arlene Foster after stating that he is now "hopeful" Brexit does not take place at all. The Dublin West TD ramped up tensions further after he said Ireland will not "design a Border for the Brexiteers".

He also risked antagonising Mrs Foster's party further after he confirmed that he will tomorrow attend a Gay Pride breakfast event in the city.

The DUP has to date been accused of blocking attempts by Sinn Féin and other parties to hold a referendum on marriage equality.

A senior Government source last night said Mr Varadkar is "unlikely" to raise the issue of marriage equality during his meeting with Mrs Foster and her DUP colleagues today.

But in his speech at Queen's, Mr Varadkar will refer to the upcoming European Council meeting in October, during which EU leaders will discuss whether the issue of the North has been adequately addressed during the Brexit talks.

"In October, I will sit around the European Council table with 26 other prime ministers and we will decide together whether sufficient progress has been made on three key issues to allow the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase," Mr Varadkar will say.

"Those three key issues are citizens' rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland.

"It will be a historic meeting for this island. It is my fervent hope that progress will have been made, but I do not underestimate the challenges."

Irish Independent

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