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Sunday 3 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Building Bridges

Leo Varadkar becomes first Taoiseach to visit Orange Order HQ in Belfast

Speaking about the UK government’s Brexit paper Varadkar said his initial view is that ‘it is a step in the right direction’.

Leo Varadkar in Northern Ireland Laura Hutton Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) is welcomed to the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast by the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, Edward Stevenson as part of his visit to Northern Ireland. Laura Hutton

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR today became the first serving Irish head of government to visit the Orange Heritage Museum in Belfast.

During his visit, the Taoiseach met with Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, Edward Stevenson, and took a tour of the venue.

The trip to Northern Ireland has been described as a significant visit which aims to smooth over relations between the south and unionist leaders in the North, and reassure DUP members the Irish government has no “hidden agenda” amidst Brexit tensions.

“This is a fascinating place, well worth a visit,” the Taoiseach tweeted about his visit to the museum this afternoon.

Varadkar said he would encourage anyone to visit the museum “to learn more about the Protestant heritage”.

“I’ll be back for sure,” he added.

Before visiting the museum, Varadkar met with the wife of the late Ian Paisley, Baroness Eileen Paisley, as well as MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley Jnr at the Bannside Library.

Speaking about the UK government’s Brexit paper published yesterday, he said his initial view is that “it is a step in the right direction, it is welcome but it does fall short”.

He added that it falls short as it only deals with the customary aspect of the border rather than the regulatory aspect.

In fairness to the government in London, they accept that and they make it clear that this is only about the customs element of the backstop and we do have a difficulty with any sort of deadline.
The only deadline that should be in the backstop is the all-weather or if and when deadline. So the backstop should apply until such a time as there is an alternative arrangement, a new EU-UK relationship which avoids a hard border.
So just putting off a hard border for two, three, six or 20 years is not enough. It has to be permanent.

Leo Varadkar in Northern Ireland Laura Hutton Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is greeted by members of the public following a visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast. Laura Hutton

Varadkar said it is to be welcomed that the EU task force now has something to negotiate around.

“That is something we have not had for the last two years so it is a step in the right direction. It is welcome. Even it does fall short,” he added.

The Taoiseach was also asked about UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comments on Northern Ireland, where he said “it is beyond belief that we’re allowing the tail to wag the dog”.

“When I want to know what the view of the British government is, I ask the Prime Minister,” said Varadkar.

Féile an Phobail 

Later today, the Taoiseach will meet with representatives of the broader business and community sectors in the North, and will also launch this year’s programme for the Féile an Phobail community festival in West Belfast.

Yesterday, he was criticised by some for launching the festival, with some Northern Ireland politicians stating  it was inappropriate.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “very concerned” about it.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald defended the Taoiseach, stating that it was right that Varadkar attend.

The Taoiseach said he hopes “to hear the views of people from all traditions about the current political impasse in Northern Ireland and the ongoing Brexit negotiations” while visiting the North today.

He said he will also set out the Irish government’s firm commitment to the peace process and north-south co-operation, stressing the need for parties to work together to restore power-sharing.

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