Varadkar does not envisage Ministers’ North Korea visit going ahead

Department of Foreign Affairs says it does not support visit by any parliamentary delegation


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he does not envisage proposed visit to North Korea by members of the Independent Alliance going ahead.

Minister of State John Halligan wants to lead a peace mission to the rogue state along with two Independent Alliance colleagues - Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath.

“I have absolutely no doubt that it is a well motivated suggestion. I know John is very sincere about these things.’’ Mr Varadkar said.

“It is not something that I envisage going ahead. I am sure that it is motivated from good intentions on his part. It is of course a dangerous place to go and I certainly wouldn’t want anything beastly happening to any minister of state or member of government.’

Mr Varadkar, who is on a trade mission to the United States said he has not spoken to him about it but has spoken to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and would get a briefing from the Department on Monday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said it does not support any parliamentary delegation visiting North Korea.

In response to a proposed visit by members of the Independent Alliance , the Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has agreed to meet with the Ministers to discuss the matter but stressed it is fully supportive of the international sanctions regime.

Mr Halligan said on Friday that he has not discussed his plans with the Taoiseach or with the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The three Ministers are awaiting a reply from the North Korean embassy in London for permission for a parliamentary visit.

Mr Halligan, who is Minister for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development, said the three TDs would be going as a group of three prominent politicians “in a country highly-respected around the world for its neutrality”, not on behalf of the Government.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke show, the Minister of State said he wanted to hold talks with government officials from North Korea.

He said the greatest threat to peace at present are the nuclear threats being issued by Kim Jong-un, and that he would hope to ask the North Korean leader to engage in democracy.

“What is there to lose by attempting to talk peace with North Korea as I have done with the Palestinians and have done with the Israelis?”

He said the visit would be an attempt to “rekindle contact through cultural groups like Comhaltas.”

“So far we haven’t engaged with the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Taoiseach, as a I’ve said we would be going there as three democratically elected politicians in Ireland to try and talk peace.

“This would not be a Government mission to talk about Government policy on North Korea or the world.”

Mr Halligan added that he hoped the Government would “come on board”, but that if the Department of Foreign Affairs advised against the visit, that he would heed that advice.

He also added that the three TDs would be paying their own way for the visit and there would be no cost to the State.

Roger Cole of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance welcomed the stated aim of Mr Halligan “ to rekindle Irish neutrality” and called on the Department of Foreign Affairs “to support this emergence of not just an independent voice but actual action for world peace”.