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Taoiseach must stand up for northern nationalists

As the Brexit crisis steadily intensifies, the letter signed by

1,000 concerned Irish citizens which we publish today represents a

hugely powerful message to taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

It primarily reflects the position of northern nationalists but the

key points it sets out on equality and rights deserve to be endorsed

by all those from each main tradition and on both sides of the border

who are committed to the cause of peace and reconciliation.

There is a serious prospect that the major progress so painstakingly

assembled since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement could soon be lost if a

British government which is heavily under the negative influence of

the DUP makes the wrong calls in the course of its crucial

negotiations with the rest of the EU.

These vital decisions are being taken at a stage when the Stormont

institutions remain suspended and the voices of our elected

representatives are not being properly heard.

All our main parties need to work constructively for the return of

devolution, with the central responsibility lying with the secretary of

state Karen Bradley, but the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal will

cast a dark shadow for the foreseeable future.

While the final report of the public inquiry will not be delivered

until 2019, the corrosive role of a range of DUP figures has already

been laid bare through devastating and comprehensive evidence which

has largely gone unchallenged.

The idea that the same discredited party, with its tiny Westminster

presence temporarily holding the balance of power there, could be

allowed to shape the outcome of the proposed deal between the UK and

the EU is unacceptable at every level.

We are already acutely aware of the devastating security and

political consequences which a flawed Brexit outcome will bring

across Ireland in general and along the border in particular.

The letter to the taoiseach also justifiably stresses the dire

implications for our business, health and education sectors, and the

wider threat to social cohesion in many districts which also exists.

It needs to be acknowledged that there are Conservative MPs who are

well informed about Irish affairs and understand the growing

dangers, but they also unfortunately have prominent colleagues who

have taken either a disinterested or hostile approach when these

issues are raised.

Although Brexit has plainly brought the break-up of the union into

focus, with Scotland already edging towards the exit door, those are

questions for another day.

The people of Ireland from all backgrounds are overwhelmingly

committed to maintaining the closest possible links with the EU on a

long term basis.

Northerners must look to Dublin for support in their hour of need and both Mr Varadkar and the minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney, have already responded in a measured way throughout their term of office to date.

As we reach a defining moment, it is essential that full respect is extended to every section of Irish society and all

clearly expressed commitments are honoured through their spirit and letter across the board.

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