Northern Ireland news

Protest greets taoiseach as he launches West Belfast Festival

Pro-life protesters greet Leo Varadkar as he arrives at St Mary's College. Picture Hugh Russell

Leo Varadkar was met by a group of anti-abortion protesters as he arrived at St Mary's University College in Belfast yesterday to launch Féile an Phobail.

The demonstrators voiced anger about the taoiseach's support of reform of abortion law in the Republic. They held up graphic placards and shouted "repent" as Mr Varadkar's car swept through the gates.

In his subsequent speech to launch the festival, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary, Mr Varadkar reassured nationalists that the his government recognised their "deep concern" about Brexit and the potential impact for north-south relations.

"The European Union brought Britain and Ireland closer together and eliminated many of the differences and that in turn made peace possible," he said.

On Brexit, he added: "It's also brought the issue of the border into focus and I want to assure you that the Irish government shares your concerns.

"So from the beginning we have made it our policy to protect the Good Friday Agreement and to make that central to our approach to Brexit."

Mr Varadkar said he had no doubt Brexit was a "major factor" in the ongoing political impasse in Northern Ireland.

In an reference to the rights issues currently dividing the DUP and Sinn Fein - namely same sex marriage, the Irish language and abortion - the taoiseach said he believed any right enjoyed by citizens in Britain and the Republic should be enjoyed by people in the north.

He praised the role played by the festival in helping to improve the life of the city of Belfast, labelling it “A genuine festival of the people.”

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