Northern Ireland news

Brexit: One thousand sign letter to Leo Varadkar urging him to protect nationalists' rights

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told northern nationalists they 'will never again be left behind by an Irish government'. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Acclaimed actors, leading businesspeople and top sportsmen are among the 1,000 signatories of an open letter to Leo Varadkar which calls on the taoiseach to ensure the rights of northern nationalists are protected as Brexit looms against the backdrop of a suspended Stormont.

The letter from a broad cross-section of civic nationalism is published in a double-page advert in The Irish News today.

It follows a similar initiative last December, when 200 people, including many influential figures, signed a letter to Mr Varadkar in which they voiced frustration at the deepening political crises affecting the north.

Click here to read the letter and view full list of signatories

The signatories to the latest letter include actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciaran McMenamin, international footballer James McClean and film director Jim Sheridan. It's also signed by Hillsborough campaigner Phil Scraton and singer songwriter Tommy Sands.

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Among the more than 300 business people lending their support are restaurateur Bob McCoubrey, football agent Gerry Carlile and public affairs practitioner Brendan Mulgrew, previously an SDLP special adviser.

The signatories have been approached because they represent a breadth of nationalist opinion, with more than 30 school principals, dozens of lawyers and 20-plus doctors and consultants.

The letter welcomes the Fine Gael leader's commitment to represent the interests of northern nationalists at the Brexit negotiations but notes how all citizens north of the border are denied rights which are "taken for granted by citizens in other parts of these islands".

"The British Conservative government has rendered itself unable to effect any progress on these rights issues due to its dependence on the DUP," it says.

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"Brexit threatens to deepen the rights crisis and there is a real danger of serious erosion of current guarantees."

The letter raises concerns about Brexit's impact on cross-border healthcare and education, as well a lack of representation for Northern Ireland in the European Parliament.

Belfast lawyer Niall Murphy, who has been involved in compiling the letter and its predecessor, told The Irish News that almost every section of nationalist civic life was represented among the signatories.

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"That this letter is signed by over a thousand leaders from the nationalist community is a testament to an evolving earthquake in terms of an awakening of nationalist confidence," he said.

"The 1,000 names are symbolic – the letter is not a petition, but a representative sample of the views of hundreds of thousands of people across the north and indeed across the entire island."

The taoiseach acknowledged the concerns spelled out in last December's letter, saying the his government's guiding light in Brexit negotiations was the Good Friday Agreement.

It is hoped Mr Varadkar will respond in equally positive terms to the latest open correspondence.

In February, in what was regarded as a riposte to last December's letter, a "civic unionism" group of more than 100 people signed a letter challenging what was described as a nationalist assumption that qualities such as rights, truth and equality are not inherent within unionism.

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