Northern Ireland news

Stormont officials back NI Office in Leo Varadkar visit row

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar visiting New-Bridge Integrated College in Loughbrickland
Brendan Hughes

STORMONT civil servants have joined the Northern Ireland Office in contradicting DUP claims that a cross-border visit by Leo Varadkar breached protocol.

The DUP on Monday accused the taoiseach of failing to follow protocol by not informing local elected representatives of his visit to counties Armagh and Down.

Mr Varadkar yesterday told the Dáil his visit was "deliberately low-key", but that he followed protocol by informing the Northern Ireland Office (NIO).

The row erupted after DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Varadkar's visit showed "poor manners and disrespect" because "no local representative" was informed and "none of the other normal protocol" was followed.

DUP leader Arlene Foster also described it as a "huge breach of protocol".

However, NIO said the visit followed the "correct protocol", while Stormont civil servants said they were unaware of any protocol on notifying local politicians.

An NIO spokeswoman said: "The Irish government informed the NIO through the correct structures, as they would do for every taoiseach and ministerial visit, and that was through the British-Irish secretariat.

"That information was given to us on Sunday. We had full knowledge that the visit was taking place and that was the correct protocol."

An Executive Office spokeswoman said: "The Irish government notifies the Northern Ireland Office of any intended visits by its ministers to Northern Ireland.

"This protocol applies whether or not an executive is in existence.

"We are not aware of any protocol governing the notification of such visits to MPs and MLAs."

Mr Varadkar told TDs he had only met officials and politicians on recent visits to Northern Ireland, adding: "I just wanted to do something low-key and talk to everyday people about their concerns about Brexit and their hopes for the future."

Last week the British government apologised after Brexit secretary David Davis made an unannounced visit to the Co Armagh side of the border without informing the local MP, in breach of protocol.

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