Leo Varadkar’s first visit to the North as Taoiseach risks being overshadowed by a row with unionists after the leader of the DUP issued a rebuke over Ireland’s outspoken position on Brexit.
The fallout over Britain’s departure from the EU is now threatening to damage relations between Dublin and unionists amid a political vacuum in the North where there is still no sight of a new power-sharing deal.
Mr Varadkar is expected to set out part of his vision for north-south relations, problems with Brexit and the future of peace on the island when he visits Belfast tomorrow. He is scheduled to give a speech at Queen’s University before holding talks with parties on all sides during the two days of engagements.
But his debut visit across the border as Taoiseach has been overshadowed after a backlash over his insistence Brexiteers must design a new border.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said yesterday Mr Varadkar needed to accept that Brexit is going to happen.
She also accused him of being “unhelpful” by making comments about the Irish border after Britain leaves the European Union.
Although relations between the Democratic Unionists and the Irish government remain strained, Mrs Foster said she is looking forward to meeting Mr Varadkar on Friday.
But she criticised what she called his “megaphone” politics and rubbished his hope, outlined this week, that Britain will U-turn on Brexit and remain within the EU.
Mrs Foster told reporters this was “disrespecting” the wishes of the British people.
“Brexit is going to happen. We are leaving the European Union. I just hope the Republic of Ireland will continue to work constructively with us in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK because it is very much in their interest to have a Brexit that works for them as well as a Brexit that works for the UK,” the former Stormont first minister said.
Mr Varadkar angered unionists when he said Ireland would not help Britain design an economic border for Brexiteers.
Mrs Foster said the comments were “not helpful” and added that the Irish Government “should reflect on whether they are being helpful to the process here in Northern Ireland or not”.
“They have made various interventions recently in relation to Northern Ireland politics,” she said. “It would be better if we focused on finding solutions to what is in front of us. We want to find ways forward.
“We know there are huge opportunities in relation to Brexit and we also accept there are short-term challenges. To overcome all of that, we have to work together.
“The sort of megaphone diplomacy that has been engaged in is not helpful. We have to work together to get a European exit that works for everybody.”
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