Leo Varadkar discusses shared sovereignty and Brexit
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In a move which is unlikely to endear Ireland’s former Taoiseach to recently elected DUP leader Edwin Poots, Mr Varadkar used his online address to outline his nationalist vision. And he also took to opportunity to take a swipe at Sinn Fein, led by Mary Lou McDonald, whom he accused of being “anti-British” and “euro-critical”.
Fine Gael leader Mr Varadkar, who made way for Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin as Ireland’s leader last year as part of the coalition deal struck between the two parties, was speaking at the opening of his party’s annual ardfheis, or conference.
During his speech, Mr Varadkar claimed the “tectonic plates were shifting in Northern Ireland”.
He declared: “The Assembly elections and the census tell us that in Northern Ireland there is no majority anymore.
“There are three minorities, one that defines itself as British and Unionist, another as Irish and Nationalist, and a third and growing middle ground, many born since the Good Friday Agreement, who refuse to be defined in this way.
“They see themselves as both Irish and British or perhaps simply Northern Irish.”
He added: “I believe in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime.
“We should be proud to say that unification is something we aspire to. It should be part of our mission as a Party to work towards it.”
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Mr Varadkar therefore emphasised the importance of ensuring the Good Friday Agreement was working effectively, and to “increase our engagement with people and communities in the North”.
“It means the unification of the people of our island as well as territory of Ireland and it is a legitimate political aspiration.
“It is in our Constitution and is provided for in the Good Friday Agreement should a majority of people in the North and South vote for it.”
In a remark likely aimed at Mr Poots and his party, which recently jettisoned former First Minister Arlene Foster as its leader, Mr Varadkar said: “The views of unionists must be acknowledged, understood and respected but no one group can have a veto on Ireland’s future.
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He added: “I believe we as a party also need to develop our own vision of what unification should look like.
“We know the crude vision espoused by Sinn Fein, it’s not an inclusive one – a cold form of republicanism, socialist, narrow nationalism, protectionist, anti-British, euro-critical, ourselves alone, 50 percent plus one and nobody else is needed. That is not a 21st century vision.”
Mr Varadkar stressed: “Our vision should be different. It should be one that has the best chance of carrying the greatest number of people with us, North and South.
“It should appeal in particular to that middle ground I spoke about earlier, to gain the support of people who identify as both British and Irish.
“So, Unification must not be the annexation of Northern Ireland. It means something more, a new state designed together, a new constitution and one that reflects the diversity of a bi-national or multi-national state in which almost a million people are British.
“Like the New South Africa, a rainbow nation, not just orange and green.”
He concluded: “In looking for inspiration, we need only look at our own party’s history. To Griffith and Collins who negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty which envisaged a 32 county Free State, to Liam Cosgrave who negotiated Sunningdale and established the principle of cross-community power-sharing in the North and above all to Garret FitzGerald who took huge risks in adopting the principle of consent established the New Ireland Forum and secured a role for Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
“A hundred years ago, our party founded this State, and in the next century, I believe our party is best placed to unify our island.”
The Anglo-Irish Treaty referred to by Mr Varadkar was ratified by the Dail, or Irish Parliament, on January 7, 1922.
There then followed a civil war fought between pro-treaty forces led by Michael Collins, and those opposed to it, led by Eamon de Valera, on the basis that it partitioned the island of Ireland, with six counties in the north with Protestant majorities continuing to be part of the UK.
Initially known as the Irish Free State, the ratification of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937 brought the Republic of Ireland into being.
However, many in the south have continued to remain implacably opposed to partition ever since.
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