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Leo travels to London to discuss Brexit and Northern Ireland

The new Taoiseach will meet Theresa May at Downing Street today.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated at 11am

LEO VARADKAR IS set to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May at Downing Street today.

Speaking in advance of his visit to London, the Taoiseach said he was “looking forward” to the meeting.

“I want to renew the close bond and strong relations that exist between Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“Among other things, we will discuss Northern Ireland and the need to re-establish devolved government, and Brexit, focusing on how we can avoid any adverse impact on the rights and freedoms of our citizens, on trade and the economy,” Varadkar said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party are reopening talks aimed at restoring power sharing in Northern Ireland.

New Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is also set to meet with Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire and all of the main political parties in Belfast.

Formal talks between Britain and the European Union about the UK leaving the bloc will also begin today.

The North

A deadline of  29 June (next Thursday) has been set for the successful conclusion of the talks, and the restoration of power-sharing in the North.

“There [are] 10 days within the lifetime of the current Assembly to secure the necessary agreement,” Coveney said in a statement this morning.

If we needed any reminder of the urgency of having power-sharing institutions in Stormont, it is the coincidence of the Brexit negotiations beginning in Brussels today.
As the representative of the Irish Government at the talks, I will do my utmost to support the parties in reaching an agreement which ensures that the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement is fully protected, that all of its institutions function effectively and fairly and that previous agreements are honourably implemented.
I will spare no effort to fulfil the Government’s duty as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement.

General Election 2017 aftermath DUP leader Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds at Stormont. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit

The Brexit negotiations will first focus on three key issues, namely Britain’s exit bill (estimated by Brussels to cost around €100 billion); the rights of three million EU nationals living in Britain and one million Britons on the continent; and the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said the talks taking place in Belfast, London and Brussels were all crucial to Ireland’s future.

Varadkar’s London meeting, he said, “presents the new Taoiseach with the ideal opportunity to follow-through on his previous statements by standing up for all the people of the island of Ireland”.

The Taoiseach must strongly make the case for the North to be designated special status with the European Union.
Such an arrangement is the best way of meeting the whole gamut of challenges posed to Ireland from by Brexit.
He must also tell the British Prime Minister that her government cannot drag the North of Ireland out of the European Union against the democratically expressed wishes of the people.

img2.thejournal.ie Sinn Féin's leader in the North Michelle O'Neill meets Varadkar on Friday. Source: Sam Boal

Regarding the Stormont talks, he insisted it was the DUP which is causing the impasse.

“This process could be sorted today if firm time-framed commitments to implement existing agreements were given,” Adams said.

The issues causing this impasse are not Sinn Féin issues. They are DUP issues, British government issues, and they are Irish government issues.

Sinn Féin and the DUP both met Leo Varadkar in Dublin on Friday.

Speaking to the media afterwards, DUP leader Arlene Foster said it was down to Sinn Féin whether an agreement could be reached to restore power-sharing.

“It takes two to tango and we’re ready to dance,” Foster said.

- With reporting from Daragh Brophy 

Read: UK seeks deal ‘like no other in history’ as Brexit talks kick off

Read: Fianna Fáil accuses government of ‘ramming through’ Court of Appeal appointment

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