Taoiseach attends Pride event in Belfast

Yesterday Mr Varadkar warned that Brexit remains the challenge of this generation

Taoiseach attends Pride event in Belfast

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, 17-07-2017. Image: Eamonn Farrell / RollingNews

Updated 11:30

The Taoiseach has attended a breakfast in Belfast as part of the city’s Gay Pride Festival this morning.

Leo Varadkar's support of the event has divided political opinion in the North – however he has insisted he will make no compromises on equality.

He said he was not trying to influence debate on gay marriage in the region – and welcomed the fact that uniformed garda and PSNI officers will be taking part in today’s march for the first time.

Speaking at the Pride Breakfast event Mr Varadkar said it is only a matter of time before there is marriage equality in Northern Ireland:

“I totally appreciate that the issue of marriage equality is an issue for the Northern Ireland Assembly and I think that decision can be made - but we need the Northern Assembly up and running," he said.

“It is a decision that should be made by the people who are elected on behalf of the residents and citizens of Northern Ireland.”

Thousands are expected to take part in the Belfast Pride Festival Parade this afternoon - marking the end of a full week of events across the city.

Irish border

Mr Varadkar is on his first visit to Northern Ireland since his confirmation as Taoiseach.

In a speech yesterday, he warned that Brexit remains the challenge of this generation and called for compromise options – including the possibility of the UK joining the European Free Trade Association or making a new customs union agreement with Europe – to be taken into consideration.

He pointed to the arrangement that currently exists with Turkey as an example for how that might work.

He again said that the Irish government is committed to remaining at the heart of Europe – and is completely opposed to the introduction of an economic border on the island.

He again insisted that the Irish Government will not design a hard border for the Brexiteers.

Meetings with Northern leaders

Last night Mr Varadkar met with Northern leaders including Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and DUP leader Arlene Foster.

Mr Adams welcomed the Taoiseach’s comments on Brexit – noting that Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a near 6% majority.

“The majority of people here – and let it be said loud and clear – the majority of people here voted against Brexit,” he said.

“What this all boils down to is whether unionism is clinging to their eminence of the old order  or whether it is prepared to accept that this state has changed utterly.”

Mrs Foster said her meeting with the Taoiseach was “useful” insisting that they are in agreement over the need to get power-sharing in Stormont up and running as soon as possible.

Both Mrs Foster and Mr Adams laid the blame at each other’s door for the continued political deadlock in the region.

Talks on re-establishing the executive are due to get back underway at the end of August.