Varadkar dismisses claim that EU countries 'don't really listen to Ireland'

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has dismissed claims Ireland must cut a deal with Britain because the EU does not listen to this country, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent.

Minister Varadkar did admit however that the Government must start building support with smaller EU allies to help make our views known.

Minister Varadkar made the comments as Labour jobs spokesperson Alan Kelly said Ireland needs to consider holding a referendum on any finalised Brexit deal between Britain and the EU due to the impact it will have on this country.

Speaking in London where he met Irish communities as part of ongoing talks between Ireland and Britain over the likely fallout from Brexit, Mr Varadkar rejected claims from the DUP's Ian Paisley Jnr that no one in the EU listens to Ireland.

The Social Protection Minister said regardless of concerns Ireland is being ignored by the EU and seen as a side issue in the wider negotiations with Britain, this country wants to remain at the "heart" of Europe.

During Wednesday's crucial House of Commons debate on Brexit, Mr Paisley asked Britain's Brexit secretary David Davis if he was familiar with former Irish diplomat Ray Bassett's view that the EU "don't really listen to Ireland", adding if Ireland wants to be relevant it should focus on talking to Britain.

However, responding to the controversial claim, Mr Varadkar said: "Ireland’s place is at the heart of Europe. It’s a Europe that we helped to build and we intend to stay at the heart of it.

"Of course, in the new Europe we have to build new relationships with other European countries particularly small countries and countries that have similar economic views as us for example the Benelux countries and others.

"At the same time we will have to strengthen relations with the UK, and particularly do all that we can to minimise disruption on the economy and trade, and preserve the rights that Irish and UK citizens enjoy in each other’s countries."

Mr Varadkar said he welcomed Britain's decision to publish a detailed white paper on its Brexit plans earlier this week, noting it includes a "specific chapter" on relations with Ireland.

However, despite saying this shows "the language is good" between both nations over crucial border, trade and common travel area questions, he admitted "the reality is going to be somewhat trickier".

The Social Protection Minister's comments came as Labour jobs spokesperson Alan Kelly said Ireland must consider a referendum on any Brexit deal between Britain and the EU due to the impact it will have on this country.

Warning "no one can predict how this will pan out", Mr Kelly said the EU needs to realise "these negotiations are critical to the future of this island".

He said demanding a referendum - which some legal experts have said is allowed under both the Irish and EU constitutions - which could potentially block any deal "would certainly concentrate the mind of [EU chief negotiator Michel] Barnier and his negotiating team" while elevating "our unique status and issues on their priority list".

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