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Taoiseach responds to concerns of northern nationalists in open letter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar responded to concerns expressed by northern nationalists in an unprecedented open letter. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

LEO Varadkar has acknowledged the concerns of northern nationalists following an unprecedented open letter to the Taoiseach, saying the Irish government's guiding light in Brexit negotiations has been the Good Friday Agreement.

A spokesperson for the taoiseach responded to the appeal published in yesterday's Irish News, saying he "hopes to soon see the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and the North South Ministerial Council, as the institutions will be a vital voice as we move forward into phase two of the Brexit talks".

"The Irish government's guiding light in the negotiations has been to ensure that the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement with regard to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent."

The Irish government also referred to a pledge made to people in Northern Ireland on Friday when the Taoiseach said: "I want to assure you that we have protected your interests throughout these negotiations. Your birth right as Irish citizens, and therefore as EU citizens, will be protected. There will be no hard border on our island."

Many influential figures were among more than 200 people who put their names to the open letter urging Mr Varadkar to act to protect the rights of Irish citizens in the north.

Signatories included All-Ireland-winning Tyrone GAA captain Peter Canavan as well as Republic of Ireland soccer international James McClean and boxers Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon.

Prominent lawyers, business leaders and figures from the education and community sectors also joined the public appeal to "express our frustration and growing concern over the deepening nature of the ongoing political crisis in the north".

They said there had been a failure to implement and defend the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, resulting in a denial of equality and rights, and Brexit now threatens to "reinforce partition on this island and revisit a sense of the abandonment as experienced by our parents and grandparents".

Fine Gael senator Neale Richmond last night said the letter raises "a number of understandable and pressing issues".

"Brexit is an absolute disaster for the whole island of Ireland and there is no up side," he said.

"What the Irish government and our European partners are trying to do in these negotiations is limit the damage.

"At this stage of the negotiation process, it is essential that all of Northern Ireland's parties have a voice and the re-establishment of the Executive must be a priority."

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