Arlene Foster 'very concerned' as Taoiseach set to launch Belfast festival

Leo Varadkar has defended his decision, saying Féile an Phobail is 'very much a community event'

Arlene Foster 'very concerned' as Taoiseach set to launch Belfast festival

Picture by: Brian Lawless/PA Archive/PA Images

Leo Varadkar is facing criticism as he prepares to launch a Belfast festival which some commentators have linked to the republican movement.

The Taoiseach is in the North for a visit today, where he will meet with civil society leaders from both the nationalist and unionist communities.

Mr Varadkar's office says he is looking to "hear the views of people from all traditions" during the trip.

He will visit the Museum of Orange Heritage this morning, becoming the first serving Taoiseach to do so.

As part of the trip to the North, the Taoiseach will also launch the programme for Féile an Phobail in west Belfast.

The festival programme includes a talk by the leaders of 'The Great Escape', when IRA prisoners broke out of Long Kesh.

Austin Stack, whose father was murdered by the IRA, has criticised the move - claiming "the romance continues between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin". 

DUP leader Arlene Foster, meanwhile, has said she's "very concerned" at the message the Taoiseach is sending by attending the event.

'Community event'

Yesterday, the Taoiseach defended his decision to attend the festival.

He said it's a community festival which he is happy to attend, pointing out that the event is being headlined by Olly Murs who isn’t 'a die-hard republican'.

He said: "It is very much a community event, and I'm very honoured to have been asked".

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has also defended Mr Varadkar's decision to attend a "very fine festival".

She observed: "People need to be a bit more thoughtful when they react to initiatives like this".

Speaking this morning, Minister of State for European Affairs noted: "[The event] is supported by the tourism board, by the arts council... [the Taoiseach] is going to be there in the same way he is at many other events as well."

The festival programme is being launched today, while the main Féile an Phobail events will take place between the 2nd and 12th of August.