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Varadkar to prioritise Northern Ireland power sharing when he becomes Taoiseach

Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)
Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA Wire)

Ireland’s deputy premier has said he is “disappointed” by the failed attempt to restore power sharing at Stormont.

Leo Varadkar said the Irish Government had “not for a second” given up on the matter and that he would be making it a “huge priority” in the New Year.

Mr Varadkar is due to become Taoiseach again on December 17 as agreed under the Programme for Government when the coalition formed in 2020.

MLAs met in Stormont during a recalled sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly on Wednesday in another bid to restore the Executive.

However, the DUP boycott of devolution in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol once again prevented the Assembly and Executive from being restored.

The party has said it will not return until decisive action is taken to remove the protocol’s economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Fine Gael Ard Fheis
Fine Gael leader and Tanaiste Leo Varadkar (Damien Storan/PA)

Negotiations between the UK Government and the EU to resolve differences over the protocol are continuing.

Mr Varadkar told reporters in Dublin that he was “disappointed” that it had not been possible yet to get the Assembly and the Executive up and running again.
“But we’re not giving up on it, not for a second,” he said.

“Last time when I had the privilege to be Taoiseach, for at least the last few months of office, we were able to come to an agreement with the British government on the protocol and we were able to get the executive and Assembly up and running again. That’s absolutely going to be a priority for me.

“So, I would hope either before the end of December or early in the new year to meet with the British Prime Minister, Prime Minister Sunak, and also travel to Northern Ireland and meet with all of the parties and see what we can do.

“First of all, to come to an agreement in relation to the protocol so that we can avoid a  hard border but reassure unionists about their position in the United Kingdom, but also particularly as well, to get the assembly and Executive up and running.”

He said the Irish Government wants to see the institutions up and running “long before the 25th anniversary” of the Good Friday Agreement in April.

Civil Defence Covid 19 medals ceremony
Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney (Niall Carson/PA)

“There’s no First Minister, Deputy Minister, First Minister, there is  nobody who can legitimately say that they speak for Northern Ireland or for the people in Northern Ireland too. And that’s really missing, that would have been helpful in the past when we were trying to negotiate a solution to Brexit and it would be very helpful now.

“That’s going to be a huge priority in December and the New Year.”

Mr Varadkar also said the Irish Government was “unhappy” about the UK government’s Troubles legacy legislation and that he will inform the UK Prime Minister when he speaks with him.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney held talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris on the contentious Bill that is progressing through its parliamentary stages at Westminster.

Mr Varadkar said: “As a government we’re really unhappy with the proposals that are being put forward by the British government in relation to legacy, actually all the parties in Northern Ireland are as well.

“So, this is one of these issues where all of the parties in Northern Ireland agree that the British government proposals on legacy are wrong and Mr Coveney transmitted that message very clearly to the Secretary of State. I will too to the Prime Minister if and when I have a chance to speak to him.”