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Varadkar: Fine Gael should establish a branch in Northern Ireland

Speaking at Fine Gael’s Ard Fheis this evening, Varadkar told members that unification should be a mission for the party.

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar at the Ard Fheis this evening
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar at the Ard Fheis this evening
Image: Fine Gael

FINE GAEL SHOULD establish a branch in Northern Ireland to recruit members, the Tánaiste has said.

Leader Leo Varadkar told party members this evening that he wants to see a Fine Gael branch established in the North.

Speaking at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis, Varadkar said he believes the party should “establish a branch in Northern Ireland with the same status as a constituency organisation in our rules”.

“Not with a view to contesting elections, but with a view to recruiting members and building networks with liked-minded people including those in other parties,” he said.

“We need to reach out to all sides, and we need a presence on the ground to do so.”

Varadkar gave the opening speech tonight at the party’s conference, where he focused largely on Northern Ireland and the aftermath of Brexit.

He touched on unification, which he said should be part of the party’s mission, and the contention surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.

United Ireland

“I believe in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime,” Varadkar said.

“It means the unification of the people of our island as well as territory of Ireland and it is a legitimate political aspiration. It is in our Constitution and is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement should a majority of people in the North and South vote for it.”

He said the views of unionists must be respected but that “no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future”, and that Fine Gael needs to develop its “own vision of what unification should look like” separately to Sinn Féin.

“I believe we as a party also need to develop our own vision of what unification should look like. We know the crude vision espoused by Sinn Féin, it’s not an inclusive one – a cold and old form of republicanism, socialist, narrow nationalism, protectionist, anti-British, euro-critical, ourselves alone, 50% plus one and nobody else is needed. That is not a 21st century vision.

Unification must not be the annexation of Northern Ireland. It means something more, a new state designed together, a new constitution and one that reflects the diversity of a bi-national or multi-national state in which almost a million people are British. Like the new South Africa, a rainbow nation, not just orange and green.”

He said Ireland would need to consider a range of factors that may need to change, such as new titles, shared symbols, or a new senate.

“We also need to map out how we can take the best of both jurisdictions and apply them across Ireland as a whole – perhaps our welfare and pensions system, their NHS.

“And also consider what might remain different, because unification is not assimilation, things can be different, north and south, perhaps maintaining two education systems, or two legal systems, if deemed appropriate.”

“Until these questions are answered, until we have a clear proposition to put to the people on both parts of our island, then a border poll is premature.”

Northern Ireland Protocol

Varadkar said that Fine Gael is aware of the “practical difficulties the Protocol has caused for some in Northern Ireland and disturbance and distress it has caused for unionists”, but that opponents of the Protocol have not given a solution that removes checks but also protects the single market and Ireland’s place in it.

“We remain committed to working through the European Union to find pragmatic solutions within the parameters of the Withdrawal Agreement. It can be done,” Varadkar said.

“The vast majority of checks and controls can be removed if we all agree to maintain the same high standards when it comes to food and veterinary rules,” he said,

“Ideology, pride nor nationalism, of any form, should not prevent us agreeing a solution. The consequences of failure for all of us are far too great.”

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The Ard Fheis opened this evening and runs until Saturday evening.

It is being held virtually in line with Covid-19 restrictions.

Unlike previous years, the leader’s address on Saturday will not be aired by RTÉ in the slot before the Nine O’Clock News.

Instead, the broadcaster has offered parties the option of leaders’ addresses being shown between 5pm and 5.30pm.

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