Belfast Telegraph

Empey hits out at 'belligerent' Taoiseach

By Lauren Harte

One of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement has said comments by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that Brexit is undermining 20 years of peace in Northern Ireland are irresponsible and dangerous.

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey was responding to the Irish prime minister's stark warning about the state of cross-border relations.

Mr Varadkar told RTE radio on Saturday that Brexit "is fraying relationships between Britain and Ireland".

He said: "Anything that pulls the two communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship."

His comments came two days after former UUP leader Lord Trimble accused Mr Varadkar's government of "riding roughshod" over the 1998 agreement and claimed that the Brexit process could result in Northern Ireland ending up as part of an "effective EU protectorate".

Lord Empey, one of David Trimble's key negotiators during the talks which led to the 1998 Agreement, branded Mr Varadkar's remarks "totally unnecessary".

He said: "I have been very concerned about the Irish government's attitude for the past year. Instead of talking to and negotiating with people, they have been talking at people. I feel that their attitude is more tuned into domestic politics and a potential election in the Republic than it is about solving problems.

"It's interesting to me that most of the people who are paying lip service to the Good Friday Agreement played no part in negotiating it.

"We built up a series of relationships and trust after years of terrorism and it's perfectly obvious from some of the statements made by Mr Varadkar and his Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney that they seem to have a completely different agenda.

"Instead of building relationships with unionism, they are doing everything in their power to antagonize it.

"Mr Varadkar is verging on being reckless with what he says. He has got to understand that many years of work went into the Good Friday Agreement and to be using this kind of belligerent language is quite offensive at times and it's irresponsible for somebody in his position," Lord Empey added.

DUP East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson accused the Taoiseach of "arrogance" and said that it's Mr Vardkar who has undermined the relationship between north and south.

He said: "This man has no idea of what respect means. He comes in and tramples all over the internal affairs of Northern Ireland and thinks that is helping good relations.

"He has single-handedly undone about 20 years of good relations with his excessive demands about Northern Ireland being made different from the rest of the UK, his threats to the peace process and his downright misleading analysis of the impact of Brexit and the need for border posts.

"If he feels that relations have been damaged then he needs to look at is own words," Mr Wilson said.

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