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Leo Varadkar being applauded by members of the Orange Order at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast with the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge, Edward Stevenson when he visited in 2018. Alamy Stock Photo
In hindsight

Varadkar hopes his bad rep with unionists will be reassessed 'with the fullness of time'

DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly said she had personally criticised the Taoiseach in the past.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he hopes the negative perceptions of him among some unionists will be reassessed in the future.

The outgoing Taoiseach was often portrayed within sections of the unionist community as a divisive figure during the Brexit process.

A hard border on the island of Ireland was ultimately achieved, which led to the EU and UK agreeing trading arrangements that created economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

At his final official engagement as Taoiseach at the North-South Ministerial Council, Varadkar was asked about the hostility he provoked among some unionists and loyalists and whether he thought it was fair.

“I would hope perhaps in a few years’ time, with the fullness of time, when things look a bit different, with hindsight, that might be reassessed,” he said. 

Varadkar was the first serving Irish head of government to visit the Orange Heritage Museum in Belfast in 2018.

Brexit 

“You know, certainly Brexit, the decision of the UK to leave the European Union, was very disruptive. And I spent a huge amount of my time as Taoiseach trying to make sure that it didn’t create a hard border between north and south and didn’t adversely affect Ireland’s position in the European Union.

“And that did take a lot of work. Ultimately it required three different agreements to be negotiated with the UK government, all of which were negotiated while I held office as Taoiseach.

Varadkar said he believed the Windsor Framework is going to hold, stating that it is now important to “make things work and that we try to make sure that we have a good and close relationship with Britain into the future and that, as much as possible, whoever holds the office of Taoiseach or whoever serves in the Irish government tries to reach out to all communities in Northern Ireland”.

DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little Pengelly, who also attended the meeting in Armagh, spoke of the past tensions.

“I think the Taoiseach is well aware that relationships between ourselves in the DUP and the Taoiseach, (and) with unionism in general, has been difficult in the past,” she said.

“I’ve no doubt that I have personally criticised the Taoiseach on the record in the past as well.

“But, as I’ve said, I wish the Taoiseach all the best in his steps ahead.

“And, of course, I am a unionist, I’m a very passionate unionist, my interest is in strengthening the United Kingdom.

“But…I want to be in this role, and in any role that I play, a good neighbour. I want there to be good relationships with the Republic of Ireland,” she said. 

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