Northern Ireland

Leo Varadkar accused of 'insulting nationalists'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of `insulting nationalists' after describing Northern Ireland as `overseas'. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of `insulting nationalists' after describing Northern Ireland as `overseas'. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been accused of `insulting nationalists' after describing Northern Ireland as `overseas'. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has been accused of "insulting nationalists" after describing Northern Ireland as "overseas" during a radio interview.

The Fine Gael leader made the comment while discussing the number of global members of his party.

"We don't have a lot of overseas members. We do have some overseas members though. We have members in Belfast for example," he said in an interview on Pat Kenny's Newstalk radio show.

Fine Gael translates as `Family/Tribe of the Irish' and when formed in 1933 initially used the subtitle United Ireland.

Sinn Féin assembly member Emma Sheerin demanded that Mr Varadkar "unreservedly withdraw" his remarks, which came a day after he clashed with her party leader Mary Lou McDonald over the €350 per week Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment.

Likening pictures of Sinn Féin Stormont ministers handing out food parcels to "Donald Trump handing out toilet roll after the hurricane," the Taoiseach told her: "Do not blame it on the Tories and do not blame it on London. If it was not for their money, it would be even worse".

"Following on from yesterday's comments in the Dáil, the Taoiseach has again demonstrated that he is increasingly out of touch with people north and south at a time when people on the ground are struggling with the challenges of the COVID19 crisis," Ms Sheerin said.

"His comments are bizarre and insulting to the nationalists in the north he pledged never to leave behind again and he should unreservedly withdraw them."

Antrim GAA football captain Declan Lynch was among those taking Mr Varadkar to task on social media yesterday.

"A chara, I'm from Belfast, which is not overseas. I am every bit an Irish person as someone from the 26 counties," he wrote on Twitter.

Mr Varadkar's faux pas follows the party's Employment Affairs minister Regina Doherty defending her government's failure to brief the Northern Ireland Executive about plans to relax lockdown restrictions by saying the government's "most important task... was to tell Irish people".

First Minsiter Arlene Foster revealed on Monday that the Executive did not receive advance sight of the Republic's plan before publication - despite a cross-border memorandum of understanding between health officials and assurances last month that the south would discuss any tightening of travel restrictions with their Stormont counterparts.