Interests of Irish citizens in the North a priority: Varadkar responds to open letter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has assured nationalists and Irish citizens living north of the border that their interests are a priority in the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

The Taoiseach was responding to a joint letter from 1,000 nationalists from across Ireland who are urging him to defend the rights of Irish citizens in Northern Ireland amid uncertainty caused by Brexit and Stormont’s political crisis.

The letter to Mr Varadkar has been signed by actors, academics, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, lawyers, teachers, doctors and a range of other figures from within civic nationalism.

The signatories include Republic of Ireland international footballer James McClean, actors Adrian Dunbar and Ciaran McMenamin, film director Jim Sheridan and folk musicians Tommy Sands and Colm Sands.

Mr Vardakar said that the Government is “fully committed” to working with the British Government and political parties in Northern Ireland in a bid to restore the institutions.

In a statement, he said: “A fully functioning Executive and Assembly is the best means of ensuring that Irish language rights, marriage equality and legacy and justice issues are dealt with by elected representatives working on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland.

“From the outset of the Brexit negotiations the Irish Government has set out to protect the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, including rights, equality and citizenship.

“The Government’s intensive efforts ensured that these issues have been pursued by the EU in the negotiations. Brexit negotiations are now at a critical stage with all focused on reaching agreement.”

He also highlighted the Government’s plans to hold a referendum next year on a proposal to allow Irish citizens living outside the Republic the right to vote in future Presidential elections.

Two similar letters have been penned to the Taoiseach in the last 12 months, one from a number of nationalists based in Northern Ireland and one from nationalists residing south of the border.

Brexit threatens to deepen the rights crisis and there is a real danger of serious erosion of current guarantees

The latest, which was sent on Friday and published in the Irish News on Monday as a two-page advert, has the largest number of signatures and is an all-island endeavour.

The letter welcomes Mr Varadkar’s pledge to defend the interests of Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland through the Brexit process but blames the Stormont powersharing impasse, which has seen the region without devolved government for almost two years, for “denying” certain “rights” to people north of the border.

It highlights Democratic Unionist opposition to same sex marriage and an Irish Language Act as two key issues of concern.

The letter adds: “As you know these rights are now taken for granted by citizens in other parts of these islands.

“The British Conservative government has rendered itself unable to effect any progress on these rights issues due to its dependence on the DUP.

Footballer James McClean is among the signatories (Niall Carson/PA)

“Brexit threatens to deepen the rights crisis and there is a real danger of serious erosion of current guarantees.”

On Brexit, the letter raises concerns about access to free healthcare in EU countries; a potential hike to the cost of attending university in the South; and the fact Irish citizens living in Northern Ireland will no longer be represented in the European Parliament.

The letter continues: “There is a very real potential that partition could be reinforced, and our country and our people further divided.

“This is a source of grave concern to all of us.

“We, as Irish citizens, urge you to adhere to your commitment that we would ‘never again be left behind by an Irish Government’ and to redouble your efforts, and the efforts of your government, to ensure that our rights are protected.”

Plans for the latest letter were first reported last month by the Co Fermanagh-based newspaper, the Impartial Reporter, which interviewed Enniskillen born actor McMenamin about his rationale for signing it.

The letter was sent to Leo Varadkar (Niall Carson/PA)

He told the paper he was concerned that the imposition of a hard border post-Brexit could spark violence.

“Brexit and a border causing violence is a possibility and one that should never be overlooked but Brexit and a border causing economic chaos is a fact and one that is being totally overlooked by the DUP,” he said.

“It won’t make anyone more British, it will just make everyone poorer.”

Belfast lawyer Niall Murphy, who has been involved in compiling the letter, said every section of nationalist civic life was represented among the signatories.

“That this letter is signed by over a thousand leaders from the nationalist community is a testament to an evolving earthquake in terms of an awakening of nationalist confidence,” he said.

“The 1,000 names are symbolic, the letter is not a petition, but a representative sample of the views of hundreds of thousands of people across the north and indeed across the entire island.”

- Press Association


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