Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar making Republic enemy of UK, warns Paisley

Unionists rail at Dublin over 'joint stewardship' ambitions if talks fail

By Mark Edwards

A senior DUP MP has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of making the Republic of Ireland an "enemy" of the UK after he called for Dublin to have "real and meaningful involvement" in decisions affecting Northern Ireland if talks to restore Stormont fail.

Speaking on Thursday, the Taoiseach said he would not support direct rule from Westminster should the Assembly not return, and insisted the Irish Government would then have a say.

His comments led to stinging criticism from unionists.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, DUP leader Arlene Foster urged Mr Varadkar to use the Christmas break to reflect.

"The Taoiseach often reminds others about their commitments and responsibilities under the Belfast Agreement, yet by seeking to meddle in Northern Ireland's affairs, he runs a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement," she writes.

"I trust the Taoiseach and his government's Foreign Minister will take the Christmas break to reflect on how they repair the damage caused by their careless statements.

"It seems they lack an understanding of unionists. By repeatedly making statements about joint authority and a united Ireland, both ministers show a naivety and at the same time undermine years of earnest work by Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan to build a meaningful relationship with Northern Ireland unionists."

North Antrim MP Ian Paisley added: "We are not the ones posing the threat, we are not the ones making hostile statements, but it appears Mr Varadkar has an agenda that is reckless because it is making the Irish Republic and positioning the Irish Republic as an enemy on these issues rather than being a good neighbour. Their language is not helping. He needs to recognise that he needs to be more skilled in the acts of diplomacy than he has been to date."

TUV leader Jim Allister called Mr Varadkar a "political chancer".

"I think this is a lot to do with the upcoming election in the south," he added.

"I think Varadkar has been trying to position himself to chase the green political vote. He has been trying to out-nationalist Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. He knows perfectly well that the arrangements don't allow him any real decision-making function in Northern Ireland, he can't be ignorant of that and yet he is demanding this."

He urged the British Government to respond.

He added: "There should be a robust response, pointing out there is no role for them other than that which is already set out in the British-Irish Agreement, which allows them to put forward views and proposals. But the decision-maker is the sovereign government, which is the UK. They need to be told that."

Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann said the Taoiseach's comments had further damaged relations with between Dublin and unionists here.

He said: "Let me be very clear once again, because apparently the message is not getting through to some in Dublin.

"There is nowhere in the Belfast Agreement that permits joint authority or joint stewardship. Articles 2 and 3 are gone and the consent principle is in place.

"Rather than try to pressurise the UK Government or unionists as to what should happen in the event that talks to restore Stormont are unsuccessful, Mr Varadkar should focus his efforts on Sinn Fein, who are the real stumbling block to progress. If Leo Varadkar really wants 'real and meaningful input' in Northern Ireland, then perhaps he should let Fine Gael field candidates and stand for elections in Northern Ireland."

However, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy hit back at unionist complaints: "Unionism's faux outrage at the Taoiseach's comments, which are simply in line with the Good Friday Agreement, is about deflecting attention from its denial of rights.

"Under the provisions of the Agreement an intergovernmental conference involving the Irish and British Governments should be called in the absence of political institutions. The onus remains on the two, but especially the British Government, which has responsibility for equality in this jurisdiction; a responsibility for underpinning in law the rights of citizens in the north of Ireland which are enjoyed by citizens throughout these islands, to pave a pathway to restore the institutions. Sinn Fein will accept nothing less."

Th UK Government said under no circumstances would it abandon the Good Friday Agreement, and that Northern Ireland is and remains a full part of the United Kingdom.

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