Leo Varadkar unfazed by criticism over west Belfast Feile launch role - Headliner Olly Murs hardly a 'diehard republican'
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is "very happy" to be associated with the west Belfast Festival that many, including DUP leader Arlene Foster, link with the republican movement.
Mrs Foster described herself as "very concerned" about the Taoiseach's decision to launch Feile an Phobail today.
He is also facing strong criticism from IRA victims including Mairia Cahill and Austin Stack.
In a tweet, Mrs Foster said: "Very concerned at the message Leo Varadkar is sending with his apparent endorsement of all events at West Belfast festival. My thoughts are with the families of Brian Stack, David Black, Adrian Ismay & the families of prison officers who face daily threats."
But Mr Varadkar noted that the DUP leader had herself attended the festival in the past. He insisted it is a "community festival" and the headline act, pop star Olly Murs, could not be accused of being "a diehard republican".
Mr Varadkar will also be the first Taoiseach to meet with the leaders of the Orange Order in their headquarters today.
But his attendance at Feile an Phobhail has raised eyebrows.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a visit to Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach said: "It's been running in Belfast for decades now, including during very dark periods.
"When it was a difficult city to live in, it was something that lifted the spirits. I'm very happy to be associated with it."
Among the events planned is a talk by the leaders of 'The Great Escape', when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of the Maze H-Blocks in 1983.
Abuse victim Cahill, who was subjected to an IRA kangaroo court, said: "I think it's a huge error of judgment and particularly hurtful for me and my family."
And Austin Stack, whose prison officer father Brian was murdered by the IRA, said the Taoiseach's decision was further evidence of a growing "romance" between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.