Varadkar clarifies ‘offensive’ remark on Northern Ireland
Taoiseach under fire for saying ‘no government will ever again leave North behind’
File image of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking in the Dáil. File photograph: Dáil/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he meant no insult to the Fianna Fáil administrations of the past 20 years when he said that “no Irish government will ever again leave Northern nationalists and Northern Ireland behind”.
In the Dáil on Tuesday, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described the comment as “offensive” and called on the Taoiseach to withdraw the remark, which Mr Varadkar made last Friday in a speech after a deal was made between the EU and UK on the first phase of Brexit talks.
The Taoiseach later repeated the remark in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph.
Mr Martin also said the argument could be made that if governments the Taoiseach had served in had shown more interest in Northern Ireland, “then we might not have the deadlock and lack of co-operation we currently have”.
However, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed the comment, as he said it acknowledged the reality for most nationalists in the North since partition.
Mr Martin highlighted Mr Varadkar’s remark and the newspaper interview during Taoiseach’s questions in the Dáil on Tuesday.
“I regard that [remark] as an offensive comment on many levels,” Mr Martin said.
Addressing Mr Varadkar directly, he said that “it suggests you are more eager to promote your Government than to respect the consensus that has operated among democratic parties here for the past 40 years”.
The Fianna Fáil leader said he did not believe anyone could look at the enormous political commitment different Irish governments had made to Northern Ireland from the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the Belfast Agreement and say that they were leaving anybody behind.
“It was an offensive comment and I ask you to withdraw it.”
Mr Martin said the Belfast Agreement and the decade of hard negotiations after it never saw an Irish government leave Northern nationalists or unionists behind.
Mr Adams said he disliked the term “Northern nationalist”, adding: “You never hear of western, southern or eastern nationalists.”
Responding to the comments, the Taoiseach said: “I was not trying in any way to disparage or make any offensive remarks about any government of the past 20 years.”
He said good work was done by the government of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, adding that Mr Martin should be very proud of the “sterling work” he had done as minister for foreign affairs.
Mr Varadkar said he was making a historical point referring to the fact that Ireland was forced to accept partition in the 1920s.
He said it was Irish governments and the Oireachtas that put up the customs posts on the Border in the first place and engaged in an economic war that further divided the Republic from Northern Ireland and Britain.
Mr Varadkar said the period he was referring to covered Cumann na nGaedheal governments, a Fianna Fáil government and inter-party governments.
When Mr Varadkar then said Irish governments of the 1950s and 1960s could have done more to vindicate the civil rights of Catholics, Mr Martin interjected: “So it is a partisan view.”
After further interjections, the Taoiseach said that it was “perhaps a matter for a historical symposium”.