Taoiseach defends lack of communication with Theresa May

‘We have each other’s mobile numbers,’ says Leo Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his lack of contact with British prime minister Theresa May over the past six weeks. Photograph: Reuters/Yves Herman

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his lack of contact with British prime minister Theresa May over the past six weeks. Photograph: Reuters/Yves Herman

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has defended his lack of contact with the British prime minister Theresa May for the past six weeks, despite the ongoing Brexit crisis and the suspended Belfast institutions.

Mr Varadkar said that he and Ms May had each other’s mobile numbers and could contact each other whenever they needed to.

“Currently the focus is on negotiations in Brussels and on the various cabinet meetings that are happening in the UK to determine what its position will be on the customs union, or a customs union partnership, and how that position might evolve,” he said.

A meeting “is under consideration for next week” if they are both in Sofia, Bulgaria at the same time.

But “the most useful conversation is the one which will be had once the British government has decided its position on the new customs arrangement”. Until then “it is very hard to make any particular progress at the moment”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who raised the issue in the Dáil, believed it was probably the only time in the past quarter of a century that leaders on both sides went so long without speaking, particularly during such a period of crisis.

He expressed concern at the lack of communication, saying that the absence of the anti-Brexit majority in the North from any major discussions “causes damage every day”.

And he said it was very surprising given the threat posed by an absent Northern Executive, and by the British government’s refusal to establish consultation processes with Dublin over the suspension, that the Taoiseach had had no contact with Ms May.

‘No silver bullet’

Mr Martin, a former minister for foreign affairs, said the British-Irish intergovernmental conference should have been convened by now and the maximum use of the Belfast Agreement was imperative.

“Otherwise, elements of the agreement can fall into abeyance and that ultimately brings the agreement itself into disrepute,” he warned.

His call was echoed by Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald who said that while it was “no silver bullet”, a forum was needed to provide a roadmap.

Green party Eamon Ryan said the lack of contact for six weeks was “remarkable” and he called on the Taoiseach to engage with the smaller parties including his own colleagues in the North.

“Relying on the big two” – the DUP and Sinn Féin – “is not clever at this time”, Mr Ryan said.

The Taoiseach said there was a lot of contact at official and political levels. He told Mr Ryan he welcomed forces in the North other than unionist or nationalist but said they had to have regard to parties’ mandate when organising meetings.