Allow gay marriage and Irish rights in NI: Varadkar

05-08-2017:  Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attending the gay pride breakfast in The Northern Wig, Belfast
05-08-2017: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attending the gay pride breakfast in The Northern Wig, Belfast

People in Northern Ireland should be afforded the same rights as citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar was referring to rights-based issues which have been at the heart of the dispute the has blocked a return to devolved government at Stormont.

The stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the republican party’s demands for legislative protections for Irish language speakers and an end to the region’s ongoing ban on same sex marriage lie at the heart of the powersharing crisis.

“I hold the view that there is no right that anyone enjoys in Ireland or Britain that should not be afforded to people of both communities in Northern Ireland,” he told the Dail on Tuesday.

“People in Ireland and in Britain can marry their same-sex partner, I don’t see why Northern Ireland should be exceptional in that regard.

“The same thing apples to issues such as language legislation and language rights.

“If these apply in Ireland, Scotland and Wales I think they should also apply in Northern Ireland.

“However, the best way to achieve that is not having it dictated from Dublin or London but through the parties elected to represent the people of Northern Ireland coming together to form an administration. I hope they will do that.”

Last August, Mr Varadkar had said during a visit to Belfast that the arrival of gay marriage is “only a matter of time”.

He had also said this was “of course a decision for the Northern Ireland Assembly”.

At that time, his comments sparked a rebuke from TUV leader Jim Allister, who said such a decision “has nothing to do with someone meddling from outside”, adding: “Let him run his country as he pleases and get off the backs of those outside his country.”

Mr Varadkar’s new comments came on the eve of a new talks process, set to begin on Wednesday, aimed at saving the Stormont government.

Tanaiste and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney will participate in the negotiations at Stormont – though unionists have often stressed that the representatives of the Dublin government must not be involved in specific talks about things which relate only to the internal government of Northern Ireland.

Responding to a question from Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams in the Dail on Tuesday, Mr Varadkar stood by previous comments that he made in relation to Brexit that he would not leave Irish people in Northern Ireland behind.

“It’s something I meant and it is something I will follow up on by meeting non-political people, leaders from civic society in Northern Ireland in the weeks and months ahead,” he said.

He added that getting the Assembly and the Executive back up and running was something people wanted to see happen.

The talks have been initiated by UK Secretary of State Karen Bradley who has said there was an urgency about the talks and they should take weeks and not months.