Taoiseach Leo Varadkar stands by ‘unity in my lifetime’ comment

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The Irish premier has stood by a comment that he believes there will be a united Ireland in his lifetime.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also said he believed “we are on the path to unification”, which has sparked criticism among the unionist community in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris appeared to describe the comments, as well as a suggestion to consider a Plan B for the restoration of powersharing, as “unhelpful”.

Speaking in Belfast on Monday, Mr Varadkar downplayed his remarks, saying it is “not the first time I have expressed my view that I would like to see a united Ireland in my lifetime”.

Stormont remains effectively collapsed, with the DUP continuing to refuse to participate in powersharing government until they are satisfied that Northern Ireland is properly protected in post-Brexit arrangements.

But Mr Varadkar said: “Every time I say it, it is not the right time. So I would often ask the question, when is the right time?”.

The Taoiseach also said that there would be a sizeable pro-British minority in a united Ireland, and he wanted to ensure they would be respected.

“I stated very clearly that I believe the success of a united Ireland would be judged on how we treat our minorities. That is how you judge the success of states.” he said.

“In a united Ireland there would be one million people who are British. They don’t just identify as British, they are British.

“That is their culture, that is their heritage, and we in the south need to talk a lot more about what we would do to make sure they feel included, feel wanted, would put their effort behind a united Ireland and not seek to oppose it.”

“If a united Ireland is going to be successful, and I don’t want it if it’s not going to be successful, we need to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to make sure that minority feel included, feel respected, feel wanted.”

Mr Varadkar made the original comment in an interview with RTE last week.

He had been asked about the Wolfe Tones, an Irish folk band that regularly spark debate over their song Celtic Symphony, which contains the words: “Ooh, ahh, up the Ra”, a reference to the IRA.

He said he thought some “maybe read too much into the politics of this”, adding: “But there is one thing that I would say, I believe we are on the path to unification.

“I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime, and in that united Ireland there is going to be a minority, roughly a million people who are British.

“And you judge the success and the quality of a country by the way it treats its minorities and that’s something we’re going to have to think about.”

Mr Varadkar was criticised in 2021 for saying that Irish reunification could happen in his lifetime.

In January this year he declined to answer whether he thought there would be a united Ireland in his lifetime during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said at the time that EU-UK talks on renegotiating the Northern Ireland Protocol, arrangements that outline post-Brexit trade arrangements for the region, had reached a sensitive stage.

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