THE Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, congratulated a group of about 30 police officers of the PSNI, the Garda, and some from English forces, for joining the Belfast Pride march on Saturday.
Dr Varadkar, who is openly gay, was attending a Pride breakfast in the city’s Northern Whig pub. Outside, a small group of Evangelical Protestants distributed leaflets, and a pastor in the background preached on the theme “The wages of sin is death”.
The Taoiseach, who had addressed a capacity audience in the Great Hall of Queen’s University the previous day, noted that the officers had created another historic occasion in the life of Northern Ireland by taking part in the march in full uniform.
In his university address, Dr Varadkar referred to the failure of the main Northern political parties to re-establish the Assembly. Warning that time was running out, he asked who, in the absence of the Assembly, would speak for the people of Northern Ireland in a Brexit in which every aspect of life in the Province would be affected.
He described Brexit as “the challenge of our generation”.
Urging clarity from Westminster on its plans for Brexit, he proposed options that, he maintained, could avoid a “hard border” that no one, either in Northern Ireland or the Republic, wanted to see.
Among his proposals were the formation of a customs union between the UK and the EU, or the UK’s rejoining the European Free Trade Association with a transition period in which the UK remained in the Customs Union and the single market while the details were ironed out.
Referring to arrangements in Norway, Iceland, and Turkey as variations of what might be possible, he emphasised the responsibility of those who wanted a hard Brexit to explain how such a solution, with barriers to trade and commerce, would be in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.
“They’ve already had 14 months to do so,” he said. “If they cannot — and I believe they cannot — we can then talk meaningfully about solutions that might work for all of us.”
Dublin would not be promoting the alternatives to a hard border, he said. “These solutions will not be offered, they will have to be asked for. And this can happen only after sufficient progress is made on an agreement on the financial settlement, protecting citizens’ rights and key issues relating to Ireland, such as the Common Travel Area.”