Taoiseach Leo Varadkar moved to reassure Irish citizens living in the North that his government will not turn its back on them during a visit to a city just a few miles from the border.
Speaking to the media during a visit to Derry, Mr Varadkar said he was “confident but not complacent” that a hard border can be avoided after the UK leaves the European Union.
Mr Varadkar also criticised the ongoing suspension of the Northern Ireland Executive, saying it meant that the region’s voice was not being heard as it should be in the Brexit negotiations.
“People in Northern Ireland from both communities and all communities are losing out because we don’t have a functioning Executive and Assembly to support decisions that have to be made around healthcare and major infrastructure projects,” he said.
“For us in Ireland, we have a huge difficulty in not being able to ensure that north-south bodies operate when they were operating well for so long, co-operation around health, infrastructure, tourism is still happening but not to the extent that we would like and of course, anyway, the voice of Northern Ireland isn’t being heard the way it should be during the Brexit negotiations.
“We, of course, as co guarantors of the agreement, want to help the parties come together to agree to get the institutions up and running again, we do appreciate that the uncertainty around Brexit hasn’t created a good environment for that, but Simon Coveney and I are really going to be working over the next few weeks to get agreement between the UK and the EU.
“I think if we have some certainty about the next few years when it comes to Brexit, and of course certainty that there won’t be a hard border, I think we may then be in a good position to try and get those talks going again.
Lovely to meet the girls from the St Cecilia’s College Choir - they provided some great music on my arrival at the Rath Mór Centre in the Creggan. pic.twitter.com/eO6JPC1k8V— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) October 26, 2018
“The agreement says that everyone in Northern Ireland has the right to be Irish or British or both, and that’s a principle that I really support and very much stand by.”
Mr Varadkar said that he wants to ensure that those in Northern Ireland who are Irish citizens can retain European citizenship after Brexit.
“What we are trying to do in these negotiations is to ensure that people in Northern Ireland who choose to avail of Irish citizenship, who choose to retain that European citizenship, continue to have all the rights that are associated with being a European citizen, the right to travel freely, to work or study in any of the 27 remaining member states,” he said.
“We are also examining the rights linked to residency, for example participation in Erasmus, participation in the European health insurance card system, and we want to see if we can ensure that EU citizens living in Northern Ireland can still benefit from those as though they still resident in the EU.”
- Press Association