The Irish PM has played down the need for the UK government to change the new post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU, although the DUP is calling for it to be ‘amended’.
Speaking to reporters in Washington DC, Leo Varadkar said it was “very important that we listen to the DUP, that we hear their concerns”, adding: “It is the biggest unionist party after all, and that matters. .”
Asked by Sky News if he thinks the UK government should change the framework with Brussels in order to appease the DUP, Mr Varadkar replied: “In all honesty, I don’t think anyone has asked that. I understand that the DUP asked for some clarification from the British government.
“What the UK government has said is that they would engage with the five main parties in Northern Ireland on any changes they were going to make to their national legislation, and I’m sure that will happen. “
But that appears to contradict DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who wants to see ‘change’ in the new deal. Speaking to the National Press Club in Washington today, he said some key areas of the deal “need more clarification, reworking and change”.
“While the Windsor framework addresses our concerns to some extent, there is still work to be done,” he said.
“The Windsor framework fails to address some of the fundamental issues at the heart of our current difficulties.”
The DUP refused to take their place in the devolved government of Northern Ireland at Stormont while the controversial Northern Ireland protocol exists. The party sees this arrangement as a boundary between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The Windsor setting – a deal between London and Brussels announced with great fanfare on February 27 – was supposed to break the deadlock, but the DUP refused to bow to pressure to accept it.
Mr Varadkar also described Sinn Fein adverts in US newspapers today calling for an Irish unity referendum as unnecessary for the acceptance of the Windsor framework.
“I’m someone who believes in unification but I don’t think it’s helpful right now,” he said.
“It’s a sensitive time. We’re trying to get everyone involved in the Windsor framework, and we mustn’t forget what the Good Friday agreement says.
“He says there can be a poll at the border when it’s clear that the majority of people in the north and the south would vote for him, and it’s not clear at all at the moment.”
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The advertisements, placed by American Sinn Fein agents, Friends of Sinn Fein, were strongly criticized by the DUP.
“I find it incredible that in newspapers across the United States this morning there is a full-page Sinn Fein advertisement calling for a referendum on Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom,” said Sir Jeffrey.
“Sinn Fein are mobilizing hundreds of thousands of dollars for a divisive election campaign. There is no evidence of growing support for Northern Ireland leaving the UK. Indeed, all major polls go in the opposite direction.
“The future of Northern Ireland lies in unionists and nationalists working together. A border ballot would pit unionists and nationalists against each other and lead to further divisions.”
Why are Northern and Southern Irish politicians in the United States?
Every year, in the week before St. Patrick’s Day, the highest political figures of the island of Ireland decamp in droves to the United States.
For the Taoiseach [Irish PM] it’s the annual opportunity to have a valuable one-on-one with the US President – guaranteed access that no other small country in the world enjoys. For opposition and party leaders in Northern Ireland, it is also an opportune time to push their agendas to the global public, riding the annual American wave of positivity towards all things Irish. .
The Taoiseach’s Oval Office bilateral meeting is a key part of Ireland’s soft diplomatic power. But the announcement of the Windsor executive just weeks before this year’s visit means Leo Varadkar needs to tread carefully.
He will enjoy the warm embrace of proud Irish-American Joe Biden and the positive publicity of the recently announced visit to the island next month for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
But he also wants to avoid putting more pressure on the DUP to rush through the deal. Many believe Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s instinct is to at least partially go along with the arrangements and get Stormont going again, but he must find a way to appease his party’s tougher rump.
The only thing that can move his hand the other way is the strong, castigating language of the head of government in Dublin. He cannot, in the eyes of trade unionists, be seen as weak in the face of such perceived provocation.
The rewards of the annual Irish exodus are high. So too, this year, are the stakes.