Alliance Party TDs press ahead with plans for North Korea trip

The Taoiseach has expressed concern that ‘beastly’ things might happen to three of his ministers if they go ahead with plans to visit North Korea, writes Juno McEnroe.

Independent Alliance Ministers are set to defy government opposition to the trip and have received an open invitation to visit Pyongyang’s embassy in London to organise their trip.

Alliance Minister of State John Halligan told the Irish Examiner that North Korean embassy officials in Britain have replied and invited him and ministers Shane Ross and Finian McGrath over for discussions. They have sought a meeting with dictator Kim Jung-un.

Speaking towards the end of a three-day trade mission to the United States, Leo Varadkar said he had no doubt the suggestion for the trip was well motivated but it was not something that he would envisage going ahead.

“It is a dangerous place to go,” he told reporters in San Francisco. “I certainly wouldn’t want anything beastly happening to any ministers of state or any member of my Government.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs is to arrange a briefing for Mr Halligan on the situation in North Korea next Monday.

While Mr Halligan, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath and Transport Minister Shane Ross would not go during Dail time, would pay their own way and not travel officially as members of the government, many have criticised the move.

Mr Halligan said the proposed trip is to try and stall growing tensions between North Korea and the US over nuclear arms. Labour said it was “another attention seeking idea” from the alliance while Fianna Fail claimed Mr Halligan’s visit was a “pilgrimage” for the former Workers Party member.

But the Fine Gael-side of government is not too pleased with the prospect of senior members talking to a regime that is subject to EU sanctions and is currently threatening nuclear strikes.

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney spoke with the junior minister yesterday. A full briefing has been offered to the alliance next week. A statement added: “The Government position remains that we do not support any parliamentary delegation visiting North Korea at this time, given the sensitivities involved.”

Mr Halligan said the alliance would still like to proceed with their visit - even in the face of opposition from Government.

“If we go to London [to the embassy], we’ll have a chat. It will probably be after Christmas. What’s wrong with dealing with cultural contacts [with North Korea]?” he said.

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