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There's no question of Republic of Ireland exploiting Brexit as means of moving to United Ireland without consent

By Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Last week I was reminded of something the Northern Irish historian, John Bew, wrote in his authoritative study of Lord Castlereagh.

Bew wrote that the essence of Castlereagh's approach to the Irish question was that it was better to 'remove causes' than to 'punish effects'.

I think that would be Castlereagh's approach today and it should be ours.

There is much more that unites us on this island - and between these islands - than divides us.

One of the architects of the Act of Union, and later a very successful British Foreign Secretary, Castlereagh made a significant contribution to peace and prosperity in Europe.

He believed that in this time of 'strictest scrutiny' we needed to 'govern for the public good'.

I believe that Friday's agreement to proceed to Phase 2, the next stage of the negotiations on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, was a perfect example of governing for the public good at a time when international scrutiny could not have been more intense.

Today I want to recognise the concerns of the Unionist community in Northern Ireland.

To those who are reading this article, I want to assure you that the Irish Government has no hidden agenda.

There is no question of us exploiting Brexit as a means of moving to a United Ireland without consent.

We do not want to see a border in the Irish Sea, any more than we want to see a border between Newry and Dundalk or between Letterkenny and the City of Derry.

We want to build bridges, not borders.

We want free travel and free trade to continue as it does now and has done for 20 years.

We want reconciliation and respect to grow.

Our guiding light - and our constant ambition throughout - has been to ensure that the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement continue to operate in full after Brexit, and that people can go about their normal lives and business as before.

In particular, the agreement we have reached explicitly recognises the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement with regard to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent.

This principle is the foundation stone of the new relationships we have built on this island since 1998, and will continue to build in the future.

To the Nationalist people in Northern Ireland, I want to assure you that we have protected your interests throughout these negotiations.

Your birth right as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens, will be protected.

There will be no hard border on our island.

You will never again be left behind by an Irish Government.

These rights will, of course, be available to everyone in Northern Ireland who chooses to exercise this right, regardless of political persuasion or religious beliefs.

In the months ahead, I hope to see the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and the North South Ministerial Council. The institutions will be a vital voice as we move forward together into Phase 2 of the Brexit talks.

Last week I was honoured to launch a new book about John Hume, someone who made a lasting contribution to peace on this island.

John Hume believed that 'When people are divided, the only solution is agreement'.

I believe that with this agreement we have helped prevent division and have provided the foundation for a solution that will benefit all of the people on this island.

Belfast Telegraph

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