Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
By Anthony Neeson
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be in several European Union capitals this week as Brexit negotiations step up a gear.
Varadkar will be meeting the prime ministers of Croatia, Romania and Italy. British Prime Minister Theresa May will also be in Europe this week trying to sell the UK government’s position as October’s withdrawal agreement deadline looms.
Mrs. May was also in Northern Ireland last week visiting Belleek on the County Fermanagh/Donegal border area.
In Belfast, May told those gathered in the Waterfront Hall that the backstop proposed by the EU was unacceptable. However, she said: “there can never be a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”
And May added: “In the Northern Ireland of today, where a seamless border enables unprecedented levels of trade and cooperation north and south, any form of infrastructure at the border is an alien concept.”
She also stated that there was no technological solution that could be used as an alternative to customs checks.
Reacting to Mrs. May’s visit and comment, the taoiseach said he was happy to talk about the wording around the backstop, but said the outcome must be the same.
Sinn Féin President Mary Loy McDonald accused May of coming to Northern Ireland to “pick a fight with Ireland and the European Union.”
“We were told that the British Prime Minister came to Ireland to listen and to reassure. It is clear that she is not listening to community and business interests and seeks only to reassure the DUP.
“Theresa May claims to want to avoid a hard border in Ireland, while pursuing a policy that will deliver a hard border.”
The SDLP said it appeared that Mrs. May’s speech had been written by the DUP. The evening before, DUP leader Arlene Foster and the party's deputy leader Nigel Dodds joined Mrs. May for a two-hour dinner.
Arlene Foster welcomed the speech.
“We urged the prime minister to recognize that the absence of an Executive [at Stormont] could not be allowed to impede progress,” said the DUP leader.
“The Secretary of State should take decisions to ensure that schools, hospitals and roads are not impacted by Sinn Féin’s boycott of the Assembly and Executive.”
On Monday, the Sinn Féin leadership of Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O’Neill travelled to Brussels for talks with the EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. The visiting duo called for a “special EU summit on Ireland in September.”