Irish deputy Prime Minister (Tánaiste), Leo Varadkar, has defended his comments on the increasing likelihood of a united Ireland despite coming under severe pressure from the British government and its allies.
The latest Anglo-Irish row was sparked after Varadkar told delegates at Fine Gael’s virtual Ard Fheis (annual party conference) on Tuesday (June 15) that he believes a “united Ireland” can happen in his lifetime.
“We should be proud to say [Irish] unification is something we aspire to”, the Tánaiste told delegates before adding he wants his party to establish a branch north of the border.
Varadkar’s comments drew a kneejerk reaction from UK Northern Ireland Secretary, Brandon Lewis, who urged him, albeit indirectly, “to dial down the rhetoric, particularly at this time of year”.
Brandon’s reaction in turn drew a response from the Irish higher and further education minister, Simon Harris, who retorted that the Tánaiste did “not need permission” to talk about Irish unity.
For his part, Varadkar has come out to strongly defend his original comments on Irish unity.
Speaking to the Irish broadcaster RTÉ on Sunday (June 20), the Tánaiste said there would always be people who were “uncomfortable talking about [Irish] unification”.
"It was the wrong time during the three years of Brexit because of those negotiations", Varadkar said before adding it was the wrong time this week “because of the difficulties the DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] was having”.
The Tánaiste went further by claiming there was “no majority anymore in Northern Ireland either for unionism or nationalism”.
Instead, according to Varadkar, there exists a “growing middle-ground of people who want to talk about this – young people in particular – and we want to talk to them”.