Varadkar pledges to raise Catalan crisis with Spanish PM

Sinn Féin leader calls on Taoiseach to ‘pick up the phone’ to urge Rajoy to start talks

People gather near the old university of Barcelona, two days after the banned Catalan independence referendum. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

People gather near the old university of Barcelona, two days after the banned Catalan independence referendum. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to raise the Catalan crisis with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy “when the opportunity is appropriate”.

He said the violence on Sunday in Catalonia was “disproportionate and counterproductive” as the regional government attempted to hold a referendum on independence and dialogue was the only hope for resolution.

But Mr Varadkar said the referendum was illegal under Spanish law.

He pointed out to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams that the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was legal under British law. He added that a previous referendum on independence for Quebec had been carried out legally under Canadian law.

Mr Adams had called on Mr Varadkar to “pick up the phone” and call on Mr Rajoy to begin talks with Catalan leaders.

The Sinn Féin leader highlighted Ireland’s connections with Catalonia and said that in 1920, Catalan independence activists sent a letter to London in protest at the death of hunger striker Terence MacSwiney, then lord mayor of Cork.

Mr Adams condemned Sunday’s violence as Government forces attempted to prevent the referendum taking place and said Spain saying it was an internal matter but he said that was the pretext the British government used about Northern Ireland for years.

Noting the close links between the ruling party in Spain and Fine Gael, sister parties in the EPP political grouping in the EU.

And he asked the Taoiseach “will you pick up the phone to Mr Rajoy and tell him to begin dialogue”.

Mr Varadkar agreed that dialogue was required and “neither violence nor unilateralism is required”.

He said “contacts will be made at official level and, when the opportunity is appropriate, I will certainly discuss the matter with the prime minister, Mr Rajoy.

“I have not yet had the chance to meet him on a one-to-one basis, but we have attended summits together, although he was not at the summit in Tallinn, presumably in anticipation of events that were unfolding in Catalonia.”

But Mr Varadkar said the referendum did not happen under Spanish law or within the constitutional legal framework of Spain.

“As a member state of the European Union, we respect the law, the constitution and the territorial integrity of Spain as another member state.”

If a referendum in Catalonia took place within the country’s legal and constitutional framework “ I imagine there would be a very high turnout and it would be considered to be democratically legitimate”.