United Ireland: Varadkar defends timing of Irish unity comments

The Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Leo Varadkar has said there are people for whom it will “always be the wrong time” to talk about Irish unification.

A united Ireland could happen in his lifetime and no group should be able to veto it, he told his Fine Gael party’s Ard Fheis (conference) last week.

The party leader drew some criticism about the timing of his comments.

Mr Varadkar said there were “people in this state” who would always be uncomfortable with the discussion.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said he was surprised by Mr Varadkar’s remarks and urged politicians “to dial down the rhetoric, particularly at this time of year”.

While he took the criticism on board, there would always be those who were “uncomfortable talking about unification”, Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

“It was the wrong time during the three years of Brexit because of those negotiations,” he said.

“It was the wrong time this week because of the difficulties the DUP was having.

“It’ll be the wrong time for the next few months because of negotiations around the protocol and the marching season.

“It’ll be the wrong time next year because we’re running into the assembly elections and it’ll be the wrong time after that.

“For those people, including some in my own party, who are uncomfortable talking about unification, they will always be uncomfortable.”

He added there was “no majority anymore in Northern Ireland either for unionism or nationalism”.

What he said existed was a “growing middle-ground of people who want to talk about this – young people in particular – and we want to talk to them”.

At Tuesday’s virtual Ard Fheis, Mr Varadkar said wanted to see the party establish a branch north of the border.

“We should be proud to say unification is something we aspire to,” he said.

“It should be part of our mission as a party to work towards it,” the Fine Gael leader added.

However he said unification must not be the “annexation” of Northern Ireland.