Taoiseach pledges to get best possible outcome for Ireland – north and south
THE Republic's government will do all it can to secure the best possible post-Brexit outcome for all the citizens of Ireland, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told an audience in Belfast today.
On his first visit north of the border since succeeding Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader restated Dublin's responsibilities as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.
In an address at Queen's University, Mr Varadkar stressed the need to maintain the Common Travel Area, while highlighting the benefits of a lasting peace in Ireland.
The taoiseach spoke about the importance of restoring the Stormont executive and the benefits of cross-border co-operation through travel, trade and healthcare
Mr Varadkar's visit to Belfast comes after a week of vocal exchanges over Brexit.
Last week the taoiseach said his government would not create a "border for Brexiteers", prompting an angry response from the DUP.
It is thought the Fine Gael leader's remarks reflect a growing frustration at a lack of progress and clarity around the Brexit negotiations.
It was expected that the taoiseach, who is remaining in Belfast tonight ahead of a gay Pride breakfast event tomorrow, would not to seek to further stoke up tensions with Arlene Foster in his speech.
"The challenge in our generation is Brexit," Mr Varadkar said
"The Brexit negotiations are well under way in Brussels – and, to quote Michel Barnier, 'the clock is ticking'."
The taoiseach said every single aspect of life in the north could be affected by the UK leaving the EU, from jobs and the economy to energy and tourism.
“In October, I will sit around the European Council table with 26 other prime ministers and we will decide together whether sufficient progress has been made on three key issues to allow the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase.
“Those three key issues are citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland."
He described the European Council meeting as "historic" for Ireland and stressed how he hoped progress would have been made.
“For our part, the Irish government will discharge our responsibilities as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement.
"We will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island – to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights, and our prosperity."
Mr Varadkar, who in the afternoon will meet the DUP, Sinn Féin and the SDLP, underlined the need for a fucntioning executive at Stormont.
"We need to hear the voice of the elected representatives here in the north," he will say.
"We need the executive, the assembly, the North South Ministerial Council and the British Irish Council up and running and acting in the interests of our peoples – we need that more than ever, and we need it now."