Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar talks bring more positive consensus among Northern Ireland parties

By Suzanne Breen

Tension between the DUP and the Irish Government has eased after Arlene Foster held talks with the Taoiseach in Belfast.

The DUP had accused Leo Varadkar of "megaphone diplomacy" following his recent statements on Brexit.

Leaving the talks yesterday, Mrs Foster pointed to party MP Sammy Wilson, who is on crutches, and joked: "We had a bit of a rough meeting!"

Mr Wilson quipped: "The ambulance is coming for the other guy!"

Mrs Foster said the meeting had helped clarify Dublin's position on Brexit matters.

"The Taoiseach is very clear that he is not in favour of a border in the Irish Sea and that is welcome," she said.

The DUP leader said she had made it "very clear" to the Taoiseach that the UK was leaving the EU and "exiting the customs union and the single market".

"We are leaving the European Union but we still want to do business very firmly with Europe, and it is finding those practical solutions that we want to engage in," she added.

"Not through megaphone diplomacy but actually through getting down to the nitty-gritty for what's needed for Northern Ireland and the Republic as well."

On restoring power-sharing at Stormont, the DUP said that if Sinn Fein continued with its "hardline" position there was little prospect of breaking the political deadlock.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said his party had "a productive meeting" with Mr Varadkar.

Mr Adams stated that he was in "total agreement" with Dublin on the need to restore the Assembly and the Executive.

But he insisted that a return to the status quo wasn't an option, and that both governments had a duty to ensure that.

"In the next round of talks there must be progress on Irish language rights, marriage equality, Bill of Rights, legacy matters and anti-sectarian measures," he added.

Mr Adams said that designated special status for Northern Ireland was "the most effective way to defend the Good Friday Agreement and ensure the two economies on the island of Ireland are protected under Brexit".

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood welcomed the Taoiseach's reassurances that "he will work to fight a hard Brexit and a hard border in Ireland".

He urged Mr Varadkar to "engage much more directly in the talks process" to help break the political stalemate.

He said: "There is a huge debate going on across the Continent about our future and we have been left voiceless.

"The utter failure of the two parties, who have the big mandates to form government, is a serious dereliction of duty. Progress must be made to give us a voice on Brexit and to get on with the job that we were elected to do - delivering on health, education and our economy."

Alliance leader Naomi Long described her meeting with the Taoiseach as "very constructive" and said both her party and Dublin were fairly optimistic that a deal to restore power-sharing could be done in the autumn.

"Alliance also outlined our concerns around the need to decouple Brexit and the debate on Irish unity," she added.

"While everyone is perfectly entitled to pursue their constitutional aspirations, it is important to keep the two issues separate. The Taoiseach also made mention of the short timetable before the European Council reviews the progress of negotiations later this year. That is yet another reason why we need a functioning Executive."

TUV leader Jim Allister claimed that Mr Vardakar's speech in Belfast had "disrespected" the UK's Brexit decision.

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