Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar seeks popularity and is indifferent to unionism, says Fianna Fail chief

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has allowed UK-Irish relations to deteriorate to the worst they've been since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, the leader of Fianna Fail has said.

Micheal Martin accused the Taoiseach of preferring "megaphone diplomacy" over actual engagement.

Mr Martin said Mr Varadkar was indifferent to unionism.

He said: "One of the greatest tragedies of all this is the constitutional status of Northern Ireland got intertwined with the economic issues.

"The Taoiseach is into megaphone diplomacy and also short-term popularity. He seems less committed to the Good Friday Agreement and oblivious to the sets of relationships that underpin the Agreement - the British-Irish relationship, the North-South relationship and then the relations between the two communities in the North.

"The whole impetus that led to the Agreement was to nurture, underpin and work on those relationships.

"I think the approach with the backstop last December and the language around that damaged the government's relationship with unionism and he seemed indifferent towards that."

Mr Martin was quizzed about his party's proposal that Northern Ireland was made a special economic zone with access to both the UK and EU markets following Brexit - which was criticised by the Irish Government for a lack of detail.

He said this idea would have given Northern Ireland "the best of both worlds", but refused to be drawn on details of the proposal.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Varadkar said that when it came to Brexit, it was in the interest of the Britain, Ireland and Europe to have the institutions in Northern Ireland functioning again.

He said: "When other heads of state ask me about Brexit and the situation in Northern Ireland, I point out two things.

"Firstly, that there has been no power-sharing government in Northern Ireland for over a year and that dissident elements are starting to get stronger and we saw evidence of that in the riots in Derry.

"I never say that Brexit has caused this because it didn't, but it has certainly soured the atmosphere.

"One of the reasons why it has been difficult to get the Assembly to meet and the Executive up and running is the difficulty created by the fact that all the parties are looking over the shoulders (at the oncoming Brexit) wondering what will happen.

"The best thing we can do, as the British Government, the Irish Government and the EU, is to get power-sharing and the Good Friday Agreement working again so as to provide certainty around Brexit.

"There are other issues of course - Irish language, marriage equality - but I think that Brexit has poisoned the atmosphere in Northern Ireland.

"It gives a voice to extreme elements, both dissident republicans and unionist hardliners."

Mr Varadkar spent last week visiting other European countries where he was engaged in soft Brexit campaigning in Croatia, Romania and Italy.

He added: "Coming away from the three meetings, in the three capitals, I got the impression that there is definitely a good understanding of Ireland's concerns, of the unique issues in Northern Ireland given that it is a special place with a unique history and geography.

"People also understand very well the risk of a return to violence or of a step backwards in terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

"There is very strong support for the Barnier task force and there is no desire to end up in bilateral negotiations.

"Everyone agrees that we don't want to be making 27 different deals with the UK," the Taoiseach added.

Belfast Telegraph


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