Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in first official Northern Ireland visit


Leo Varadkar prepares to give a speech at Queen's University in Belfast

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Leo Varadkar prepares to give a speech at Queen’s University in Belfast

Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar has arrived in Belfast for his first official visit to Northern Ireland on Friday.

He is to give a speech at Queen’s University, Belfast, on the future of north-south relations.

In the afternoon, he will hold meetings with local political parties.

On Saturday, Mr Varadkar, who is the Republic of Ireland’s first openly gay taoiseach, will attend an event as part of Belfast’s gay pride festival.

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Reuters

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Leo Varadkar and DUP Arlene Foster met in Dublin on 16 June

The taoiseach will meet the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Alliance Party on Friday. He will not be meeting with the Ulster Unionist Party as its leadership was not available.


Analysis: Enda McClafferty, BBC News NI political correspondent

Leo Varadkar has already ensured his first trip over the border as taoiseach will be one to remember.

His decision to attend the gay pride breakfast gathering as the Republic’s first openly gay Taoiseach is sure to grab the headlines on Saturday.

But, it will be his speech at Queen’s University and his meeting with the DUP, in particular, that will be the main focus on Friday.

That’s because the DUP this week accused the taoiseach of engaging in megaphone diplomacy and being unhelpful when he suggested Brexit supporters should be the ones to design a new border.


His meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster will come days after a row between the DUP and the taoiseach over the Irish border post-Brexit.

Mr Varadkar had said he would not design a border for Brexiteers but DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said that “megaphone diplomacy from Dublin” would not sort out the border issue.

Speaking on Good Morning Ulster on Friday, Sir Jeffrey said his party welcomed the opportunity to sit down with the taoiseach.

“It is better to have dialogue than what we’ve seen in recent weeks which is the Irish government making statements about a border in the Irish Sea which is totally impractical and a non starter,” he said.

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Leo Varadkar arrives at Queen’s University for his first engagement in Northern Ireland

“We have to negotiate our way through this.

“We want a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement, we want a common travel area. These are the objectives we’ve set, we’re negotiating with Brussels, but Dublin is currently disengaged.”

On the same programme, Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the taoiseach was “acting in the interests of the people of Ireland when he makes these remarks and these approaches to the European Union”.

“If they (the DUP) want to see a new arrangement which effectively is the same as the old, why leave the European Union?” Mr Murphy continued.

“We have to ensure that our interests are up there. The fact that we are Irish citizens and European citizens and we have rights to be protected needs to be front and centre. And we look to the taoiseach to defend our interests.”

On Thursday, former taoiseach John Bruton, who was also a former leader of Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael party, said that the DUP is in a position to answer questions over Brexit because of its Westminster pact with the Conservative Party.

“Do they (the UK government) want to leave the customs union? Are they willing to accept being in the European Economic Area? What type of agriculture policy will the UK government pursue post-Brexit?

“These are all questions that Arlene Foster is in a position to answer because she’s critical to the continuance of the current UK government.”



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