Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Dublin has to earn the trust of unionists

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attempts to repair some of the Republic’s damaged bridges to the unionists, following the Brexit negotiations.

He states that the Irish Government has no hidden agenda.

“There is no question of us exploiting Brexit as a means of moving to a United Ireland without consent.

“We do not want to see a border in the Irish Sea, any more than we want to see a border between Newry and Dundalk, or between Letterkenny and the city of Derry. We want to build bridges, not borders.”

Since assuming office, both the Taoiseach and his deputy Simon Coveney have struggled to understand the unionists’ depth of feeling about the border and the reasons for that feeling.

In a renewed relationship with the Republic derived from the Belfast Agreement, any talk about the border will worry those who know only too well the ravages of a sustained Provisional IRA campaign to force ‘the Brits’ — i.e. unionists — out, as well as the relentless political campaign by Sinn Fein to weaken the border as a step towards Irish unity.

In recent times, leading politicians in Dublin were careful about the North, but Leo Varadkar and particularly Simon Coveney seem to have stumbled on a harder line which has alienated unionist people here.

It is to his credit that he has taken the opportunity to speak to those people directly in these pages and his choice of words will certainly resonate. He will be heard.

Northern Ireland is a place where every word matters, and nuancing is vital. The wrong word at the wrong time, and spoken or written in the wrong way, can have the most serious consequences.

The Irish Premier says that our constitution will continue to be guaranteed under the Good Friday Agreement, which was hard won by all concerned, and it is important that relationships must not become too fractious.

The relationships between Dublin and London are also strained, as Mr Varadkar acknowledged in an article in the Sunday Independent, and much  repair work needs to be done there.

Brexit is hugely problematic for all of us, and while no one wants a hard border, there are fears that a soft border might mean no real border at all, and this crucial reality could become lost under a welter of detail.

We are all in this together, and we need the best outcomes without permanently alienating other communities. Bridge-building is always better than a war of words in forming a trust which is mutually vital.

A much closer relationship between Mr Varadkar, his Fine Gael party and his government, and the unionist people he has so recently misjudged, is crucial to all our prosperities on the island.

His remarks today are an important step towards that understanding.

Belfast Telegraph

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