Brandon Lewis responds after Varadkar's united Ireland comments
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The Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) ruffled feathers when he told his Fine Gael party’s Ard Fheis (conference) last week that a united Ireland was possible in his lifetime, adding that no one should be able to veto it. And the former Taoiseach also revealed plans to establish a branch of his party north of the border.
The DUP accused him of making “dismissive and disrespectful comments” ahead of the loyalist marching season.
The UK’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, urged him to “to dial down the rhetoric, particularly at this time of year”.
In an RTE interview broadcast on Sunday, Mr Varadkar appeared to have taken the criticism on the chin but pointed out that opponents of Irish reunification will never want to talk about it.
He said: “I understand the criticism and I’m willing to take that on board.
“But it’s also the fact that there are people in this state who will always be uncomfortable about talking about unification. It will always be the wrong time.
“It was the wrong time during the three years of Brexit because of those sensitive negotiations.
“It was the wrong time this week because of the difficulties the DUP is having.
“It will be the wrong time for the next few months because of negotiations around the Protocol and the marching season.
“It will be the wrong time next year because we’re running into the Assembly elections, and it will be the wrong time after that. But this conversation has already happened.”
He went on to say a “middle ground” has emerged in Northern Ireland regarding the debate over whether the province should remain part of the UK or become part of a reunited Ireland.
Mr Varadkar said: “There is no majority anymore in Northern Ireland, either for unionism or for nationalism, and a growing middle ground of people want to talk about this.
“Young people in particular, and we want to talk to them.”
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In his speech at his party’s conference last week, the Fine Gael leader made no secret of his ambitions to break up the UK.
He told his fellow party members that “we should be proud to say unification is something we aspire to”.
He claimed the “tectonic plates were shifting” in Northern Irish politics and said the mission of his party should be “to work towards it.”
He bold words came during what is a highly-sensitive time in the province.
In recent weeks and months unionists and loyalists have been protesting over the Northern Ireland Protocol, a key part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
The EU and ministers in London are locked in a high-stakes spat over how to address the problems arsing from the protocol, which aims to prevent a return to a hard border in Ireland.
The protocol means after Brexit Northern Ireland remained in the EU’s single market for goods.
Under the deal, shipments arriving from Britain must be checked at points of entry.
Unionists view the sea border as an appeasement – Brussels’ response to threats of republican violence in the event of a border on the island.
They fear the trade border which the protocol created in the Irish Sea has effectively cut them off from the rest of the UK.
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