Belfast Telegraph

Nationalists in Northern Ireland will not be discriminated against – Varadkar

The Irish premier said people in Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from ‘important rights’.

Irish premier Leo Varadkar (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Irish premier Leo Varadkar (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to be European in all circumstances, Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said.

In a move to reassure northern nationalists, the Taoiseach said people in Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from “important rights” and will not be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality.

Thousands of nationalists living north of the border have called on Mr Varadkar to ensure their rights are protected as the political fallout over Brexit continues.

In January more than 1,500 Irish citizens attended an event in Belfast which highlighted the potential impact of Brexit on their rights and livelihoods.

In his annual address to Seanad Eireann – the upper house in Dublin – Mr Varadkar said: “The Withdrawal Agreement contains a commitment from the UK that Brexit will not result in any diminution of the rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

“I have discussed with Prime Minister (Theresa) May the responsibilities of the UK Government under the Good Friday Agreement, with or without a deal.

“No matter what happens, there are a number of areas on which we can provide reassurance for Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland.

“Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to be European citizens in all circumstances.

“They will continue to enjoy the right to travel and work and study freely throughout the EU, benefiting from the important rights not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality while doing so.”

He said the continuation of the Common Travel Area will allow Irish and British citizens to move freely.

“They will continue to enjoy a range of rights and privileges in each other’s countries, including the right to live and work as well as to access healthcare, housing, education, pensions, social benefits and the rights to vote in each other’s local and parliamentary elections,” he added.

“Even in the event of a no-deal outcome, we will ensure that people in Northern Ireland will still have access to European Health Insurance Cards.

“Similarly, we will work to ensure third-level students in Northern Ireland will continue to be able to access the Erasmus+ higher education programme.

He thanked both houses of the Oireachtas legislature for showing “unity” in dealing with Brexit, particularly the Brexit Omnibus Bill which was passed last month.

“This landmark piece of legislation, crossing the remit of nine Government departments, focuses on protecting Irish citizens, assisting businesses and jobs, and securing ongoing access to essential services and products,” he added.

“Our work complements the steps under way at EU level to implement measures to mitigate the impact of a no-deal Brexit.”

PA

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