Unification  | 

Leo Varadkar tells Fine Gael ard fheis United Ireland 'can happen in my lifetime'

Leo Varadkar says abolition of border should be part of his party’s ‘mission’

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Photo: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Philip Ryan

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he believes a United Ireland can be achieved in his lifetime.

In his opening address to Fine Gael’s ard fheis, Mr Varadkar said unification is a “legitimate political aspiration”.

He said the abolition the border on the island of Ireland should be part of his party’s “mission” and called on members to aspire to achieving this goal.

“I believe in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime,” Mr Varadkar said.

The Tánaiste’s intervention comes at time of serious political unrest in the North as Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are seeking to establish a new executive after Arlene Foster’s resignation.

However, there are deep divisions between the two parties over the enactment of an Irish Language Act.

The recently elected DUP leader Edwin Poots has previously raised concerns about Mr Varadkar and Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney’s interventions on Northern Ireland during Brexit negotiations.

Speaking to Fine Gael delegates on Tuesday evening, the Tánaiste said his party should establish branches in Northern Ireland.

He said the branches would not contest elections but should work on “recruiting members and building networks with liked-minded people including those in other parties”.

“We need to reach out to all sides and we need a presence on the ground to do so,” Mr Varadkar said.

He said to achieve a United Ireland a “new and closer relationship” with the United Kingdom will be necessary.

Mr Varadkar said consideration will also have to be given to new titles, shared symbols and the introduction of a new senate “to strengthen the representation of minorities”.

He criticised what he called Sinn Féin’s “crude vision” and “cold form of republicanism”.

He said Sinn Féin’s policies are “narrow nationalism, protectionist, anti-British” and “euro-critical”

“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,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said 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 added.

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael believes in “free trade and multilateralism” and do not want trade barriers on the island of Ireland or with Britain.

“That’s why we, along with the majority of people and parties in Northern Ireland, opposed Brexit,” he said.

“The decision to opt for a hard Brexit made it inevitable that checks and controls would have to happen somewhere and it is much better that these should take place at two or three ports and airports rather than at multiple border posts along 10 border counties,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said he appreciates the practical difficulties of the Northern Ireland Protocol and noted that they have caused “disturbance” for Unionists.

“We are also conscious, that the opponents of the Protocol, have not come forward with solutions that remove the need for checks while ensuring the single market is protected and our place in it is not undermined,” he added.

Mr Varadkar said “ideology, pride nor nationalism” should not stand in the way of a solution to he Protocol stand-off as the “consequences of failure for all of us are far too great”.

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