Brexit negotiations dominated Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s meeting with UK prime minister Theresa May with both agreeing that a “seamless and frictionless” border is needed.
Also on the agenda was the ongoing power-sharing talks in Northern Ireland as Mr Varadkar made his first foreign trip to Downing St since becoming Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar said he had pushed for marriage equality during his recent meeting with DUP leader Arlene Foster and would continue to raise the issue with her.
The Taoiseach revealed that during his meeting with Ms Foster in Government Buildings on Friday he had expressed his “very strong view” that marriage equality should be permitted in Northern Ireland and that the majority of people in Northern Ireland want that.
Mr Varadkar said: “I expressed very clearly my view that the ‘petition of concern’ mechanism should not be used to block marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
“As you can appreciate Arlene Foster has a very different view on this matter and they made me aware of their different views on the matter, so while we shared each other’s views there wasn’t a meeting of minds on this issue.”
However, he said he would to continue to raise the matter.
“I don’t think there is any prospect that marriage equality will not continue in Ireland, and in Britain the only question is when, not whether, it will come about in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Varadkar denied he had put the country on the brink of a general election as a result of the appointment of Máire Whelan to the Court of Appeal.
However, he admitted that it was not something that he had hoped for during his first week in power.
“But equally it’s not something I’m going to wash my hands of”, he said, in support of the appointment which he described as lawful and with precedent.
Ms May and Mr Varadkar are to travel to Brussels this week for a European Council meeting focusing on Brexit.
After their meeting which lasted around 50 minutes, Ms May said they both had been clear on the fact that they have “a shared objective to ensure we don’t see a return to the borders of the past”.
Mr Varadkar said both governments would work hard to ensure there is “minimal to no disruption” to trade after the UK leaves the EU.
“We have acknowledged that there may be a political border between our two countries ... there should not be an economic border and that any border that does exist should be an invisible border,” he said.
Mr Varadkar said he had relayed concerns around the fact the Conservative party could become too close to the DUP.
However, he said he was “very assured by what the prime minister had to say that the agreement, once it’s reached, will be published so it will be there for everyone to see”.
“We spoke about the very important need for both governments to be impartial actors when it comes to Northern Ireland and also that we are co-guarantors in the Good Friday Agreement and that any agreement that may exist between the Conservative party and the DUP should not in any way impact on the Good Friday Agreement or the special role that both governments have when it comes to impartiality and when it comes to the terms of the agreement.
“The formation of the government is a matter for the MPs elected to Westminster and not for our government but I am very reassured by the meeting today,” he said.
This was echoed by Ms May, who said: “As a UK government we remain absolutely steadfast in our commitment to the Belfast Agreement and to the successor agreements.”
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