Northern Ireland

Taoiseach: Irish to remain an 'honest broker' in NI

Leo Varadkar
Image caption Leo Varadkar said the Irish government is an "honest broker" in Northern Ireland.

Pacts and special arrangements between political parties have created a "new dynamic" in Northern Ireland, the Irish prime minister has warned.

Leo Varadkar was speaking in Belfast after a meeting with business leaders about Brexit and the ongoing Stormont impasse.

He also addressed the Alliance Party's annual dinner on Friday night, ahead of its conference on Saturday.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted to reach out to the "centre ground" in politics.

He referenced the DUP, which has been in a confidence-and-supply pact with the Conservative Party since June 2017, and said the Irish government would remain an "honest broker".

'Honest brokers'

"We should try to be honest brokers and be impartial when it comes to dealing with the different political parties in NI and try to work with everyone and listen to all sides," he said.

"Whether it's true or not, some people perceive the British government listens more to the DUP than other parties."

Asked if the British government was not being an honest broker, given its ongoing pact with the DUP, Mr Varadkar would not directly comment.

But he made reference to Fianna Fáil's recent partnership with the SDLP, and said it could lead to a similar problem.

"It could create a similar dynamic were they to re-enter government south of the border," he said.

"My view is we should try to speak to all parties, put the past behind us and reach a better future."

'New solutions'

In his speech to Alliance members, Mr Varadkar said he wanted to work with parties in civic nationalism and unionism who seek "new solutions to old problems".

He said Fine Gael has now established and resourced a Northern Ireland Engagement Group, which would "work with people who consider themselves to be British or Irish and the growing numbers who feel that they are and can be both".

The taoiseach (Irish prime minister) said it was something he was committed to personally.

He also referenced Brexit and the lack of government at Stormont.

On Brexit, he said: "Whatever happens, I ask that you continue to make the case for Europe into the future.

'Don't give up'

"The majority of people in Northern Ireland are with you, especially the young, don't give up on it or on them.

"The Brexiteers never gave up on leaving. Had they lost the referendum, they would not have given up their firmly held beliefs. I ask that you never give up either."

He added that he hopes the withdrawal agreement will still be ratified by the UK in order to avoid a no-deal outcome.

He "deeply regretted" that the assembly and executive are not functioning, he added.

Mr Varadkar has previously attended an Alliance Party conference.

He told members he took part years ago in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, when he was a member of Young Fine Gael.