Aug. 4, 2017, 6:06 a.m.
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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will tell an audience in Northern Ireland on Friday that the “challenge of our generation” is Brexit.
In his first visit to Northern Ireland as Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar will make a keynote speech at Queen’s University Belfast urging politicians to restore Stormont so major issues such as the UK quitting the European Union can be properly addressed.
As part of his two-day visit Mr Varadkar will also meet political leaders, including Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party, with whom he has crossed swords in the past week.
Brexit will be a key part of those discussions after Mr Varadkar insisted that Dublin was “not going to design a border for the Brexiteers”, a remark Ms Foster described as “not helpful”.
Ms Foster pointedly queried whether comments about Brexit by Mr Varadkar and other Fine Gael politicians were “being helpful to the process here in Northern Ireland or not”.
Mr Varadkar also will attend a Belfast Pride breakfast event on Saturday. He will not, however, join the main afternoon parade, saying he needs to be at Croke Park to see Dublin play Monaghan in the All-Ireland football quarter-final.
In his Queen’s University speech on Friday morning Mr Varadkar will call for the retention of the Common Travel Area with the United Kingdom, urge the speedy restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and highlight the benefits of cross-Border co-operation in travel, trade and healthcare.
“Every single aspect of life in Northern Ireland could be affected by the outcome” of Brexit, the Taoiseach will say: “jobs and the economy, the Border, citizens’ rights, cross-Border workers, travel, trade, agriculture, energy, fisheries, aviation, EU funding, tourism, public services. The list goes on.”
Mr Varadkar will also repeat the warning of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the clock is ticking.
“In October I will sit around the European Council table with 26 other prime ministers, and we will decide together whether sufficient progress has been made on three key issues to allow the Brexit negotiations to proceed to the next phase.
“Those three key issues are citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and issues relating to Ireland. It will be a historic meeting for this island. It is my fervent hope that progress will have been made, but I do not underestimate the challenges we face.”
Mr Varadkar also will speak about the positive aspects of the different nature of communities north and south.
“Our differences make us stronger, and our diversity is our strength. That remains my view today as Taoiseach,” he will say. “We need to hear the voice of the elected representatives here in the North. We need the Executive, the Assembly, the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Council up and running and acting in the interests of our peoples. We need that more than ever, and we need it now.”
Mr Varadkar also will pledge that the Government will discharge its responsibilities as a guarantor of the Belfast Agreement. “We will do all we can, in Brussels, in London and in Dublin, to achieve the best outcome for everyone on this island – to protect our peace, our freedom, our rights and our prosperity.”