Belfast Telegraph

We'll work with Taoiseach Varadkar, says DUP amid tense exchanges and appeal to find border solution

By Niall O'Connor and Suzanne Breen

The DUP has moved to defuse a row with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after accusing him of engaging in "megaphone" politics over Brexit as the diplomatic row between Dublin and Belfast intensified.

In a clear heightening of tensions ahead of scheduled talks on Friday, Mr Varadkar claimed he had "nobody to call" in a position of authority in Northern Ireland because of the absence of an Executive.

And he confirmed he will attend a special breakfast to mark Belfast Pride on Saturday, saying he will not issue "an apology" for doing so. "I won't be able to attend the parade because I want to get back to Croke Park for the (Dublin) match, but I will attend the Pride breakfast on Saturday morning in Belfast to express my support for equality, for the law, Catholics, Protestants, non-religion, women, gay people and straight people," Mr Varadkar said.

"I won't be making any apology for that to anyone, really."

He was asked about the city's Gay Pride parade in the context of the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster having blocked same-sex marriage in the Assembly.

He previously challenged Mrs Foster over the issue at a meeting in Dublin. Mr Varadkar made the remarks in Dublin's Temple Bar, where he was flanked by the only other gay member of his Cabinet, Children's Minister Katherine Zappone.

Mr Varadkar yesterday cited the strong relationships he shared with the First Ministers in Wales and Scotland, Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon. But he said the same cannot be said for Northern Ireland.

"When it comes to Belfast I have nobody to ring and so the best thing the Northern parties can do is get back around the table as soon as possible, and having done so continue to uphold the four principles they agreed with us - one of those was that we would work together to preserve the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and people."

Earlier, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson urged Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael to "step back" from what his party perceived as an increasingly antagonistic stance on the UK's EU exit.

"What won't solve the problem is megaphone diplomacy from Dublin," he told BBC Radio Ulster. "I think the Taoiseach needs to recognise that going back to the politics of the 1970s and 1980s in Anglo-Irish relations isn't going to help anyone."

The Lagan Valley MP said any failure to reach co-operation with Dublin could result in a hard border.

"We have to co-operate here. A solution has to be one that is agreed and that means Dublin has to have an input. If Dublin refuses to co-operate on this, inevitably we are going to end up in a different arrangement that could result in some sort of hard border.

"Now that's not in Dublin's interests - the Irish economy would suffer greatly if we can't find an agreed way forward."

But Mr Varadkar rejected the criticism. "I have never been involved in megaphone politics. I expressed the position of the government in relation to Brexit, that is my role as Taoiseach to express the position of the government publicly just as people from the DUP, Sinn Féin and any party in Northern Ireland are free to give their position and give it forcibly, and I think they have done that, so I would not accept that contention at all," he said.

"But I look forward to being in the North on Friday and having a chance to meet the parties."

Speaking last night, Sir Jeffrey emphasised his desire to work with Mr Varadkar and he welcomed "the Taoiseach's awakening to the reality that we need to talk about Brexit, and hopefully not by megaphone but in person".

"The Taoiseach will be surprised by how willing the DUP is to engage with him and his government in finding practical solutions to the challenges that lie before us," he said, adding there was "no issue" over Mr Varadkar attending the Pride breakfast. "So long as he doesn't interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland, who he meets is a matter for him," he added.

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