Belfast Telegraph

Varadkar's nuanced Brexit speech timely

Editor's Viewpoint

The first visit to Northern Ireland by new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar certainly made an impression on different levels, and its importance was underlined by the impressive turnout of civic leaders and politicians at Queen's University when he made a major speech there on the Brexit implications for all of us.

It was a carefully nuanced address in which he stressed the degree of change that has taken place across this entire island, and he offered realistic suggestions as to how the post-Brexit border dilemma might be solved.

He was also critical of the UK Government's lack of information as to what it wants from Brexit, and specifically how, with its current European partners, it hopes to solve the complex question of the border.

His intervention at a time of such confusion and so little clarity is to be welcomed, though some people may query his forthrightness in challenging the UK Government so directly in his first major speech on Northern Ireland soil.

People may also wonder about his support for the Belfast Pride event on Saturday, and some unionists have criticized him for this. However, he showed that he is not a man to shy away from controversy on this issue as the first openly gay Taoiseach in the history of the Irish State.

He also underlined his great frustration at the lack of progress at Stormont, and he asked the pointed question: "Who speaks for Northern Ireland?" The short response is that we hardly know the answer to this ourselves while our politicians continue to show their inability to reach an agreement that could, and should, benefit everyone.

Mr Varadkar's pledge to help directly if necessary to find an agreement is welcome, and he provided a reminder that both the Dublin and London governments have a crucial role to play in injecting the necessary urgency and focus into the renewed talks at Stormont.

The Taoiseach undoubtedly has his own agenda, and some people here might resent the directness of his intervention on all fronts, but it is important that he keeps a clear focus on Northern Ireland as we all continue to try to find an agreement in the midst of some very choppy political waters.

There is much at stake for people on both sides of the border in the run-up to Brexit, and this will require considerable political skills, tolerance and understanding from all concerned.

Belfast Telegraph

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