Varadkar and May ready to drop everything for Northern talks

Taoiseach says he does not believe difficulties between SF and DUP are insurmountable

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at Queen’s University, Belfast. He said Northern Ireland was a “unique place” for which a “unique solution” may be required from the Brexit discussions. Photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at Queen’s University, Belfast. He said Northern Ireland was a “unique place” for which a “unique solution” may be required from the Brexit discussions. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he and British prime minister Theresa May were willing to “drop everything” and get involved in talks aimed at restoring the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

He said he did not believe difficulties between Sinn Féin and the DUP, which have created political stalemate at Stormont, were insurmountable.

Talks between all the Northern parties are due to resume in September, and will also involve Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary James Brokenshire.

“Simon speaks for me and James speaks for Theresa. But if there is a point at which an intervention at prime minister level would make a difference, and we’re confident that it would make a difference, we’re absolutely willing to drop everything and do that.”

Mr Varadkar said Sinn Féin and the DUP needed to come to a point where an agreement could be sealed.

“I’ve had this conversation with prime minister May on the phone and when I met her in London. Both of us are willing to become involved in the talks, but only if it’s going to make a difference.

“We’re willing and able to do whatever we can to get the Executive up and running again and have the Assembly meet.”

Deep gulf

He was asked if he understood fully how wide the gulf was between Sinn Féin and the DUP at present.

“I do have an understanding that there is a wide and deep gulf. I’ve met the parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, already in Dublin. I’m meeting them again today.

“And of course it’s through engagement that you gain a better understanding of the gaps and differences that exist between people. But I don’t think they’re insurmountable.”

He said similar situations had existed before where a gap of understanding between two parties had been bridged.

“We are now at a very critical point where some very big decisions are being made that will affect the lives of people in Northern Ireland potentially for a generation.

“It’s important that all the parties come together, form an Executive and assure that they can influence that.”

Mr Varadkar was speaking to the media after giving a speech on Brexit at Queen’s University. He said Northern Ireland was a “unique place” for which a “unique solution” may be required from the Brexit discussions.

Special status

After Brexit everyone in Northern Ireland would continue to be allowed to be a British or Irish citizen, or both, and therefore also remains entitled to be a European citizen. This would not be the case in Scotland, Wales or England.

“You only need bespoke solutions for Northern Ireland if Britain leaves the Custom Union, if Britain leaves the Single Market. If the entire United Kingdom stays in those things then you don’t really need special status for Northern Ireland.

“And I would hope that unionist parties, for example, who will be keen to preserve and protect the Union would see how it’s much easier to do that in fact if the UK stays in the Customs Union and stays in the Single Market, because that takes away the need for any sort of special arrangement or bespoke solution for Northern Ireland at all.”