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Saturday 10 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Referendum
With young people in 'Repeal' jumpers beside him, Leo Varadkar was asked about the Eighth in Belfast today
Varadkar will also give a speech at Queen’s University as part of his first trip to Northern Ireland as Taoiseach.

Updated 11.06am

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has travelled north of the border, where he will hold meetings with the leaders of the main political parties, including the DUP’s Arlene Foster.

Brexit is set to be high on the agenda, after comments from Varadkar last week on the issue of the border drew the ire of unionists.

Varadkar also gave a speech at Queen’s University in Belfast this morning.

He said that, with the Good Friday Agreement, Brexit makes the case of Northern Ireland “truly unique and one that will need unique solutions if we are to preserve and protect all that we’ve gained”. He indicated the willingness of his government to help the citizens of Northern Ireland.

“Time is running out,” he said, “and I fear there will be no extra time allowed”.

In a Q&A session at the end, the Taoiseach was asked about the timing of the referendum on the Eighth Amendment, with some nearby attendees wearing “Repeal” jumpers.

The questioner made the point that, if the referendum happens next June, a large number of young people and students who may leave Ireland during the summer will be unable to have their say.

Varadkar replied that the government is planning for a referendum in May or June of next year, and that the wording, legislation, a referendum commission and campaign would all have to be arranged.

“We haven’t set a date yet,” he said. “We have had June referendums before, though.

I take the point and get the message that young people would like the referendum at a time when they are all in the country, so we will take that into account.


Last week, Varadkar spoke strongly on Ireland’s position on Brexit, saying that ”we’re not going to help the UK come up with a border solution”.

Varadkar went on to say that the government’s position is that there should be no border, so it will not help in designing one.

“We do not think it is in the interests of our country,” he said. The Fine Gael leader said it was up to the British government to propose solutions to the border issue, as it was “Britain who decided to leave” the EU.

16/6/2017 Unionists Meet Leo Varadkar Sam Boal / Varadkar's comments on the post-Brexit border drew an angry reaction from unionists. Sam Boal / /

The DUP lined up to criticise this position, however, with Foster calling the comments “unhelpful”.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds accused the Taoiseach of “sending mixed messages” and “going backwards” and DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said that Varadkar was “cutting off his nose to spite his face”.

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said Varadkar’s approach in this regard has been “diplomatically clumsy”.

He said: “There was some damage done to the relationship between Dublin and the unionists. He has to mend those relationships.”

Donnelly said that the lack of a power-sharing assembly in the North had created a “political vacuum”, and that the Irish government should be “front and centre in terms of protecting the people of Northern Ireland”.

He did agree, however, that to propose solutions for what kind of border will be created would be “almost speaking it into reality”.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams welcomed Varadkar’s statements, and accused the DUP of “disrespecting the will of the people in the North who voted to remain within the EU in last year’s referendum”.

Tomorrow, the Taoiseach will attend a Pride event tomorrow morning, but not the actual Pride parade, before heading back to watch Dublin play Monaghan in Croke Park.

Coinciding with Varadkar’s visit, Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire ordered the Pride flag to be raised at Stormont House.

Read: FactCheck: Do 70% of Irish people see themselves as middle class?

Read: John Bruton: ‘We have to do everything we can to stop Brexit from happening’

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