| 9.4°C Belfast

Varadkar apologises for Belfast 'overseas' comment and hits out at Sinn Fein on 'incorrect' terminology

Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has apologised after he appeared to refer to Belfast as being overseas, but continued his war of words with Sinn Fein saying those in the party should change their language when referring to the Irish Republic.

He asked if the party "in the interests of good will" would "stop referring to the State as the ‘South of Ireland’, ‘Free State’ or the ‘Southern State’".

"Some find that offensive too and it is geographically incorrect, especially if you consider the location of Donegal."

Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin , said Mr Varadkar's comments were "clearly deflection politics from the Taoiseach" describing them as "bizarre".

On Friday the Fine Gael leader caused outrage during a radio interview when asked about the possibility Green Party members in Northern Ireland would have a say on the party's talks on entering a coalition to form a government in Dublin.

"We don't have a lot of overseas members. We do have some overseas members though. We have members in Belfast for example," he said on Pat Kenny's Newstalk radio show.

He was accused of "insulting nationalists".

In a statement to The Irish News the Taoiseach apologised.

"My sincere apologies to anyone I offended," Mr Varadkar said.

"I have crossed the land border dozens of times in my efforts to prevent a hard border and to bring both jurisdictions closer together.

"To clarify, Fine Gael has a Belfast branch and we also have branches overseas like Brussels. The context, which some have neglected to mention, was me defending the right of Green Party and Fine Gael members living in Northern Ireland to have a say on whether we form a government together."

Last week Mr Varadkar and Sinn Fein party president Mary Lou McDonald clashed in the Dail over the €350-per-week Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.

Mr Varadkar responded to Ms McDonald by highlighting that payments for the unemployed are far lower in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein is in power.

He suggested the rates were so low that Sinn Fein ministers were forced to deliver food parcels.

"Sinn Fein ministers on their Facebook site promote the fact that they hand out food parcels to the poor, reminiscent to me of Donald Trump handing out toilet roll after the hurricane hit the islands in the Caribbean," he said.

"I would be ashamed to do something like that. Do not blame it on the Tories and do not blame it on London. If it was not for their money, it would be even worse," he added.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill accused Mr Varadkar of engaging in party politics.

"Leo Varadkar's policy and Fine Gael's policy will always be akin to a Tory policy," she said.

"I believe that his comments were unbefitting of even a caretaker Taioseach.

"I'll make no apology for any Sinn Fein minister, or any minister for that matter, looking after those people who need them right now, people who are shielding, people who can't get out to buy their own food. So Leo's comments are more about party politics and the fact that he wants to try and form a government at the exclusion of Sinn Fein."

Belfast Telegraph