N. Ireland Politics

Leo Varadkar: Irish government 'not damaging north-south relations'

Leo Varadkar Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Leo Varadkar said "only Brexit" had caused damage to political relationships

The Irish prime minister has dismissed a suggestion that his government's role in the Brexit process has caused damage to north-south relations.

Earlier this week, DUP leader Arlene Foster said Dublin's role had caused "much damage" to the relationship with Northern Ireland.

Leo Varadkar refuted the claim and said "only Brexit" had caused damage to political relationships.

He was speaking after a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Manchester.

This was the 32nd plenary meeting of the council, which looks at ways to improve co-operation between its members in such areas as the environment, transport, energy and housing.

It is being hosted by Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, who is Theresa May's de-facto deputy prime minister.

The taoiseach (Irish prime minister) attended the summit, along with representatives from the Scottish, Welsh governments and those from Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

Image caption A number of political leaders were present at the meeting of the British-Irish Council

The main focus of the meeting was energy - particularly around the transition to smart energy systems and combating climate change.

However political leaders also spoke about the Brexit deadlock and the Conservative leadership race.

Mr Varadkar said he did not want to be drawn on the two candidates, adding that he would work with whoever becomes prime minister.

Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley was not present as she is taking part in talks to restore Stormont.

David Lidington said it was unfortunate that no-one from Northern Ireland was present at the event, given that the council was established through the Good Friday peace agreement.

Mr Varadkar said "no one political party" could speak for Northern Ireland, and that he hoped power-sharing talks could still succeed.

Mr Lidington also stressed the importance of getting a Brexit deal, and underlined concerns from businesses and the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) about the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on the economy in Northern Ireland.

What is the British-Irish Council?

It was set up under the Good Friday Agreement, which signalled an end to 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland, as part of efforts to boost and strengthen east-west relations.

Its sister organisation was the North-South Ministerial Council, made up of ministers from the Northern Ireland Executive and ministers from the Irish government.

However, that has not met since just before the collapse of Stormont.

It was last held in Northern Ireland in 2013, when representatives met in Londonderry to mark its year as UK city of culture.

The council last met in the Isle of Man in November 2018, just before the draft withdrawal agreement was published.

Since then, the UK has been granted several extension dates by the EU - and the UK's withdrawal is now scheduled for 31 October.

Image caption There has been no movement on Brexit, with the EU saying it will not re-open the withdrawal agreement

However, Westminster has still not ratified the agreement because of opposition to the Irish border backstop.

Discussions between ministers are likely to mention planning for a no-deal Brexit, as well as the Conservative leadership contest and the impending change of prime minister.

Last week, the taoiseach said he would also use Friday's summit to discuss the Rockall fishing dispute with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

More on this story