Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach vows to build bridges not borders over Brexit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has vowed to safeguard the rights of border communities in the midst of Brexit.

In an address to the Fine Gael ard fheis - his first as head of Government - Mr Varadkar said he was certain Ireland will remain at the heart of Europe.

"I want to reassure all border communities that we are listening to you, we hear your concerns and we promise you that we will safeguard your rights, and all that we have achieved," he said.

The Taoiseach said he accepted the Government could not control all decisions in terms of Brexit.

But addressing his party faithful in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Co Cavan, only a few miles from Fermanagh, he repeated his insistence about the future of the open border.

"A shared space is not a lost space. So on this island, let's build bridges, not borders," the Taoiseach said.

"There can be no return to the border on our island."

The Taoiseach also recalled how Ireland had moved away from Britain four times in the past - in 1921; the formation of the Republic in 1948; the break of the link with sterling in 1979; and joining the Eurozone in 2001.

"While there were challenges, on every occasion we overcame them and emerged stronger and more prosperous as a result, and we approach the challenge of Brexit with the same spirit," the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar used his speech to list achievements of the Government.

He also noted that next year marks the centenary of women getting the vote and the election of Constance Markievicz to parliament.

He said: "It is high time that we had equal pay for equal work, and equality of opportunity in all things."

The Taoiseach also vowed to use his time in Government to improve the lives of working families.

He said it was a priority. Mr Varadkar said he wanted to introduce paid family leave that can be shared between parents in the first year of their child's life.

"We are determined to make it a reality," he said.

The Taoiseach also said there would be a reformed social insurance system to provide sick pay for people who have to take time off work to care for seriously ill loved ones.

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