Varadkar: When I come North I see myself as a neighbour, not invader

He has become the first sitting Taoiseach to visit the Museum of Orange Heritage

Varadkar: When I come North I see myself as a neighbour, not invader

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media following a visit to the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast | Image: Laura Hutton/PA Wire/PA Images

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he sees himself as a neighbour, not as an invader on a trip to Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar is continuing his visit with a range of engagements in Belfast and Newry.

On Friday he visited the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast, tweeting: "I'd encourage anyone to visit @OrangeHeritage to learn more about the Protestant heritage. I'll be back for sure".

This is the first such visit by a serving Taoiseach.

He also met with Eileen Paisley, the widow of Ian Paisley, at the Bannside Library.

Later he will meet with representatives of the broader business and community sectors, and will also launch this year's programme for the Féile an Phobail community festival in West Belfast.

This has drawn some criticism, as some commentators have linked it to the republican movement.

Mr Varadkar will also visit the oldest GAA club in Co Down at Mayobridge, before meeting chief executives of the North/South Implementation Bodies in Newry.

The Taoiseach said he wants to hear views of people about the current political impasse in Northern Ireland, and the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

He will also set out the Irish Government's commitment to the peace process and north-south co-operation, stressing the need for parties to work together to restore power-sharing.

Speaking outside the Orange Order's headquarters in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said: "When I come north I see myself as a neighbour, not as an invader, as the head of government in another jurisdiction.

"I see this place, Northern Ireland, as a neighbouring jurisdiction - but also one in which there are almost a million people who are Irish citizens, and we need to acknowledge that and the fact that it does make it a unique place.

"And certainly what I'm trying to do with this trip is to reach out to all communities in Northern Ireland to understand their needs and their perspectives better and try to cement relationships that I think we can build on into the future.

"And I have to say - notwithstanding remarks form politicians on occasions when it comes to my visits to Northern Ireland - when it comes to ordinary people, businesses, union leaders, civic engagement I always feel extremely welcome.

"I've been made to feel really welcome by the Orange Order, was made to feel really welcome by the Paisley family earlier, and I'm sure it's going to be the exact same when I launch Féile an Phobail later on".