Irish government must push harder for United Ireland - Varadkar

The former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the next Irish government should push harder for a united Ireland.

Speaking at an Ireland’s Future event in Belfast, he said there was a need to step up preparations for a possible end to the border, including setting aside funding to pay for the change.

Mr Varadkar said that rather than just being a “political aspiration”, a united Ireland should become a “political objective”.

Asked if a date of 2030 should be set for a border poll, he said he was reluctant to work to a specific time-frame.

The former Fine Gael leader stepped down as Taoiseach in April.

Mr Varadkar is one of the guest speakers at the event in Belfast, which is being attended by more than 2,000 people and is discussing a united Ireland.

He outlined his vision for the future and said the campaign for a united Ireland should be wider than any one party.

“What I hope we’ll see happen in the next government, no matter which parties are in it, that we’ll see what is a long-standing political aspiration towards unification become a political objective,” he said.

”It means actively working towards it, preparing the ground for it.”

Mr Varadkar defended his time in office saying his focus was dealing with the repercussions of Brexit and the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont.

He said financially a united Ireland would be an economic success but the next Irish government should set aide money to prepare for a united Ireland “transition period”.

He said he did not want a united Ireland just for the sake of it, he wanted it to be a success, with the maximum amount of support.

'Sneering and denigrating abuse'

White haired man sitting and speaking at event
David Adams is a former paramilitary and loyalist politician [BBC]

In a section entitled ‘Protestant Perspectives’, the discussion also included former paramilitary and loyalist politician David Adams and DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) founder Wallace Thompson.

Mr Adams has been critical of the Ireland’s Future group in the past and voiced his concerns again.

He claimed that members of the group were ignoring, and in some cases, opposing the need for reconciliation between divided communities.

Mr Adams described his remarks as a “wet blanket” at the event, but he appreciated the invitation.

He said there had been a “sustained campaigning of sneering and denigrating abuse” aimed at unionists on social media and mainstream media.

Looking to the future, he said: “Either we all win or we all lose, it’s that simple.”

On a united Ireland, he said if he lived to see a border poll he would make a decision based on the situation at the time, and would choose the option that would secure the best future for his children and grandchildren.

Ireland’s Future have defended their work.

On their website, they say they are dedicated to “mutual respect between all views and traditions that share this island”.

grey haired man with glasses in shirt and jacket
Wallace Thompson is founder of the DUP [BBC]

'Out of my comfort zone'

DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) founder Wallace Thompson also spoke at the event.

Last month, he said he felt a united Ireland was inevitable.

At the event, he described himself as a life-long supporter of the Reverend Ian Paisley, a unionist and an evangelical Protestant.

He received a round of applause after admitting he was “out of my comfort zone”.

Nonetheless, he insisted his conscience was clear for attending an event linked to a united Ireland.

Blonde woman in white blazer speaking into a microphone
Michelle O'Neill also addressed the audience at Ireland's Future event in Belfast [PA Media]

First Minister Michelle O’Neill also spoke at the event.

She insisted that Casement Park would be rebuilt while she is in office.

The Sinn Féin vice-president was also speaking at the event and said her preference was that it would be ready in time for Euro 2028 but she made it clear that even if it was not completed by then, it would still happen.

“In case there’s any doubt out there, Casement will be built on my watch,” she said.

Northern Ireland is due to host five games in the championships but the stadium site remains derelict and redevelopment work has yet to begin.

Supporters of the project hope the next UK government, after the 4 July election, might provide the necessary funding.

'Diary clash'

Politicians from both sides of the border have been lined up to speak including Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, the SDLP’s Claire Hanna and Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan plus representatives from the Alliance Party, Green Party, Workers Party, Fine Gael, People Before Profit, Aontú, the Social Democrats and the Irish Labour Party.

The Alliance Party leader, Naomi Long, was due to speak at the event but withdrew because of a “diary clash”.

One of the slogans of Ireland’s Future is “paving the way to the reunification of the island”.

On its website it states it is “not a political party and are not affiliated to any political party”.

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