Varadkar to seek meeting with Sunak over Christmas period to discuss Northern Ireland

FG leader intends to travel to Northern Ireland as Taoiseach to meet party leaders

Leo Varadkar will seek a meeting over the Christmas-New Year period with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discuss Northern Ireland.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said he hoped the meeting could be arranged “either before the end of December or in the New Year” and that he also intends to travel to Northern Ireland as Taoiseach to meet party leaders.

He was speaking alongside Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys at the launch of a new €33 million fund to upgrade hundreds of community centres nationwide.

He said he wanted to meet political leaders in the North, “first of all to come to an agreement in relation to the protocol so that we can avoid a hard border but reassure unionists about their position in the United Kingdom. But also particularly as well to get the assembly and executive up and running again.”

READ MORE

He said it was paramount to have a government in Northern Ireland. “There’s nobody who can legitimately say they can speak for Northern Ireland, or the people of Northern Ireland. And that’s really missing. That would have been helpful in the past when we were trying to negotiate a solution to Brexit, it would be very helpful now.”

Under the new scheme announced on Thursday, hundreds of community centres will benefit from €33 million in funding as part of a new programme of capital investment announced by Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys.

Under the terms of the scheme, community centres will receive grants of between €25,000 and €300,000 provided to successful projects, including money to upgrade, renovate and refurbish community centres, parish halls, scouts clubs, youth hubs, family resource centres and sports complexes across the country.

Ms Humphreys said that it would “help volunteers carry out essential repairs to community centres, whether fixing the roof, upgrading the heating system or even putting in a new kitchen.”

“We want to help communities because we know as in Hartstown here, the community centre is the heart of the community, so it’s about upgrading the facilities.”

Mr Varadkar said he would not be discussing Cabinet reshuffling with his fellow Coalition party leaders until next week, and that the only agreements were that he and Micheál Martin would change positions, and that the positions of Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform would rotate - while Green Party leader Eamon Ryan had indicated he would not be shuffling his ministers.

“All things going to plan there will be a new Cabinet formed on 17th December. The first people to know who’s in that and what positions they have will be the people themselves.

“That’s all that’s agreed at this stage, any other changes have yet to be discussed,” he said.

Asked about the housing crisis, Mr Varadkar said that if forecasts of missed targets were to come to pass “then the situation will get worse not better, and that’s not an acceptable outcome for me or anyone in government. So we have to consider every option,” he said.

“There have been periods in the last couple of years where we thought we were turning the corner in the housing crisis, and for various reasons that didn’t happen, and we need to make sure that we redouble our efforts over the next year or two and get on top of this burning political, social and economic issue.”

In light of Fáilte Ireland writing to hotels over the issue of price gouging in the sector, Mr Varadkar played down the prevalence of the issue.

“I think price gouging is pretty rare, I know it does happen but I think the vast majority of hotels, the vast majority of hoteliers around the country are not engaging in that. Prices are higher but it’s 10-14 per cent, higher than inflation but not what I would describe as being gouging.”

“A lot of hotels are helping out by providing accommodation for people who have fled Ukraine, some haven’t been paid yet and that was an issue that was raised last night at my parliamentary party and we’re certainly following up on that,” he said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times