Leo Varadkar voices hope that Brexit deal can be signed off this weekend

Leo Varadkar said the draft deal was a good outcome for Ireland, the EU and the UK. Picture by PA Wire

The taoiseach last night voiced hope that European Union leaders would sign off the draft Brexit agreement and the joint political declaration this weekend.

Leo Varadkar, who is scheduled to be in Brussels on Sunday for a special European Council meeting, described the draft withdrawal agreement as a finely balanced compromise between the concerns and priorities of all 28 countries involved.

Speaking in the Dáil during a Brexit debate, he said he hoped the deal would receive the necessary approval at Westminister and the European Parliament.

"It represents a good outcome for Ireland and for the EU as a whole, and for the UK itself," Mr Varadkar said.

He said finalising and approving the deal was the best way to ensure an orderly withdrawal.

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Mr Varadkar also used his speech to outline the benefits of the agreement for avoiding a hard border.

The tánaiste called for support from both houses of the Oireachtas for the draft plan.

Simon Coveney said it would send a strong signal ahead of the European Council meeting.

Mr Coveney said that Ireland needed to be "crystal clear" that the withdrawal agreement text is fully supported by all parties in the house.

"In my view it takes away from the clarity of what we are trying to achieve this evening in terms of a clear simple statement from Ireland that the text agreed last week we fully support and we're encouraging others to do the same," he said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the continued absence of the Stormont assembly and executive had profoundly damaged Northern Ireland interests.

He said the devolved institutions were silenced "at a time when they are needed the most".

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He accused Sinn Féin of denying the north a voice on Brexit.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said her party was one of four remain parties in the north, which represented the majority view.

She criticised the DUP for being "catastrophically wrong" on Brexit, during the referendum debate and in its aftermath.

"They are really wrong now about the draft agreement on the table," she said.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar had told TDs that the DUP believed the integrity of the United Kingdom was of utmost importance, even if it means a "lesser world".

"The DUP holds very firm to this view that the most important thing is the integrity of the UK, the integrity of the precious union, and, if that means a lesser world, that's acceptable provided that the integrity of the union is upheld," he said.

The taoiseach added that the draft agreement reached on the withdrawal of the UK from the EU should not be seen by unionists as a threat to the union.

Mr Varadkar said it was a "real shame" that the Northern Ireland institutions were not functioning during what he called "this very significant time".

He said the DUP was a hard-line unionist party, adding that they would not object to being described as such, and said that they were "not well disposed" to taking advice from Irish governments.

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