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Taoiseach on DUP leader's belief the Good Friday Agreement can be changed: 'It is not up for negotiation'

She also said that fears about how Brexit will affect Ireland was turning people off the idea.

DUP Leader Arlene Foster
DUP Leader Arlene Foster
Image: PA Archive/PA Images

Updated Oct 2nd 2018, 3:00 PM

REACTING TO ARLENE FOSTER’S claim that the Good Friday Agreement could be altered to accommodate a final Brexit deal for the United Kingdom, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said “it is not up for negotiation”. 

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, the DUP leader said it was “deeply frustrating” that the European Union and anti-Brexit voters saw the agreement as sacred.

She said: “It has been deeply frustrating to hear people who voted remain and in Europe talk about Northern Ireland as though we can’t touch the Belfast Agreement. Things evolve, even in the EU context.

“There has been a lot of misinterpretation, holding it up as a sacrosanct piece of legislation.”

She also suggested that the discussion about how Brexit will affect Ireland was turning people off the idea of leaving the European Union.

“We haven’t been able to talk about the aspirations for the nation, we’ve spent so much time arguing about what’s happened,” she said.

“[How it's] going to be a disaster for Ireland in inverted commas…instead of actually focusing on what we can achieve in the UK with the Brexit negotiations.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Foster praised Boris Johnson’s “positive” vision for Brexit, saying she endorsed his “belief” and “spirit” and that she would work with him if he became Prime Minister.

The DUP leader – whose party supports the Conservative Party in the British Parliament under a confidence-and-supply arrangement – would not be drawn on which type of Brexit deal she preferred.

However, she did not rule out support for a Canada-style deal for Brexit if an agreement could be found on avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland.

But she said she would have to see what any deal meant for Northern Ireland.

“All I can say to you is that whatever is proposed, we will look at our red line, we will judge it against that red line, and we will make a decision,” she said.

However, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty hit back at Foster’s comments as “reckless”.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, he called on the Irish government to ensure that changing the Good Friday Agreement did not become an option, adding the the British government needed to “stop messing” and produce credible Brexit proposals.

Asking the Taoiseach to address Foster’s remarks in the Dáil today, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Good Friday Agreement is not a “chip to be bargained with”.

She added that Foster’s words are “dangerous and reprehensible”.

“The Good Friday Agreement is sacrosanct,” said McDonald.

Varadkar said the Irish government will defend the “primacy” of the Agreement, adding that it is a “co-defender” of the Agreement. 

The Agreement is not a British piece of legislation – but an international agreement which was put to the people by a referendum. It can only be changed with consent of both governments and by consent of communities in Northern Ireland, said Varadkar.

“As far as this govt is concerned the Good Friday Agreement is not up for negotiation,” added Varadkar.

Earlier today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said on Twitter:

I have respect for Arlene, but she is wrong on this.

He added that the Good Friday Agreement was voted for by overwhelming majority in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He said it has helped to end violence and “provided for the most prolonged period of peace and stability in Northern Ireland’s history”. 

We will defend and protect it through Brexit.

With reporting by Christina Finn 

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