Taoiseach criticises Fianna Fáil-SDLP partnership in Belfast

Varadkar compares partnership to UK Conservatives and DUP agreement

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following a meeting at the Irish Secretariat offices in Belfast on Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following a meeting at the Irish Secretariat offices in Belfast on Friday. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has criticised the Fianna Fáil partnership with the SDLP on a visit to Belfast.

In a doorstep with journalists and later when speaking at an Alliance Party dinner on Saturday, Mr Varadkar spoke of the necessity to be an “honest broker” when dealing with Northern Ireland politics.

Speaking at the Alliance dinner in the Stormont Hotel Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael wanted to be able speak with and work with all parties as an honest broker.

“We want to be able to talk to parties in confidence and without fear or favour. I don’t think you can really do that if you have a privileged relationship with one party over the others,” he said.

“We’ve all witnessed the dynamic created by the Conservative party’s Agreement with the DUP,” he added.

“We need to be wise to the possibility that a similar dynamic could arise were Fianna Fáil to be in Government in Dublin given its partnership with the SDLP.”

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael had established and resourced a Northern Ireland Engagement Group to “work with people who consider themselves to be British or Irish and the growing numbers who feel that they are and can be both”.

Conservative comparisons

Asked earlier by reporters in Belfast did he believe that the British government was being impartial considering its arrangement with the DUP, in order to remain in power, Mr Varadkar said his view was that governments should try to be “honest brokers and impartial when it comes to dealing with the political parties in Northern Ireland – to work with everyone”.

He said the Conservatives-DUP confidence and supply agreement had created a new dynamic.

“Whether it’s true or not some people certainly perceive that it means that the British government listens more to the DUP than to other parties,” he said.

He said Fianna Fáil had created a “similar partnership” with the SDLP and that “could create a similar dynamic were they to re-enter Government south of the Border”.

“My view is that we should try to speak to all parties and be an honest broker. But I particularly want to reach out to the centre ground,” he added.

Asked did he consider the Fianna Fáil-SDLP partnership as unhelpful to North-South relations Mr Varadkar said the Belfast Agreement required governments to be impartial. “That does not mean not taking positions but it does mean treating political parties with parity of esteem”.

He said Fine Gael wanted to work with all parties and would not be entering into any such partnerships, at least certainly “not in the foreseeable future anyway”.