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DUP's Nelson McCausland criticises Leo Varadkar gay pride decision

Former DUP MLA for North Belfast, Nelson McCausland, told the BBC’s Today programme: “The DUP would tend to be a fairly compassionate party."

A DUP former minister has criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s decision to attend a gay pride event in Belfast on Saturday.

Nelson McCausland, a senior party member who was a minister in two executive departments, criticised the Fine Gael leader.

“Many unionists will have a concern that Leo Varadkar is Taoiseach of the Irish Republic, his responsibilities are south of the border and they will find it odd if he starts to interfere, as in some ways he already has done, in what is a social issue in Northern Ireland around the redefinition of marriage,” Mr McCausland said.

Earlier Mr Varadkar confirmed that during his first visit to Northern Ireland as taoiseach that he will join a Belfast Pride breakfast at the Northern Whig ahead of the afternoon parade.

He is due to meet the DUP on Friday but there was no formal criticism of his decision to attend the Pride event from the leading unionist party yesterday.

Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson told The Irish News that as long as Mr Varadkar did not “interfere in the internal matters of Northern Ireland” he had no issue.

Mr McCausland is no longer an elected representative, having lost his North Belfast seat in the March assembly election.

According to the taoiseach's office, the Fine Gael leader will not take part in the main event, as he plans to return to the capital to attend the Dublin-Monaghan All-Ireland quarter final at Croke Park.

 

Mr Varadkar is due to meet the DUP on Friday and while there was an expectation that Arlene Foster's party would voice concern about the taoiseach's plan to attend Pride, its response yesterday was decidedly subdued.

The Irish News understands that elected representatives were directed by DUP headquarters to refer any journalists to the press office but no official comment was forthcoming.

Asked whether calling for an end to the ban on same sex marriage would constitute interference, Sir Jeffrey said he would not speculate about what the taoiseach might say.

Former Ulster Unioinist leader Sir Reg Empey said that as long as Mr Varadkar had observed the usual protocols then "basically it’s his business"

"Everybody knows his stance on the issue and he’s maybe been invited by the organisers, so as long as he’d followed the usual diplomatic protocols with the government then that’s a matter for him and them," he said.

Sir Reg said he had reservations about same sex marriage but that Pride and who attends the event was a “matter for the organisers”

When confirmed as Enda Kenny's successor in June, Mr Varadkar said hew would use his office as taoiseach to advance the cause of LGBT rights across Ireland. The north is the only region in Ireland and Britain where same sex marriage is unlawful. The DUP vetoed efforts to change the law by deploying a petition of concern in the assembly.

Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Mr Vardakar said he would not be making any compromises for anyone.

"I will attend the Pride breakfast on Saturday morning in Belfast to express my support for equality before the law for Catholics, Protestants, non-religious people, men, women, gay people and straight people," he said.

"And I won't be making any compromises about that for anyone really."

The taoiseach's decision was supported by former Fianna Fáil minister Martin Mansergh.

"He’s been supportive of LGBT rights in the south and if he’s been invited to Belfast then I have no problem with it – good luck to him," he said.

"It is an issue that has support in both communities so it’s not like he’s attending a nationalist parade."

Sinn Féin's Megan Fearon welcomed the taoiseach's announcement.

"We want to see the same right to equal marriage enjoyed throughout the rest of Ireland extended to the north immediately," she said.

Director of LGBT advocacy group the Rainbow Project John O’Doherty said the taoiseach's decision was a "testament to how far social attitudes have changed on this island".

"Obviously Leo has been very forthright in his support for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and we know that his presence at Belfast Pride will be greatly appreciated by those in attendance," he said.

Uniformed officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland are due to participate in this year's Belfast Pride march for the first time.

Garda officers have also been invited to join them.

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