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Varadkar to undertake final engagement as Taoiseach in NI

Leo Varadkar will undertake his final engagement as Taoiseach today when he visits Northern Ireland for a meeting of cross-border ministers.

He and other members of the Cabinet will attend a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council, established under the Good Friday Agreement.

They will meet with ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive in Co Armagh.

On the agenda will be discussions on north-south co-operation affecting both jurisdictions.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Varadkar described the council as a “really significant and positive moment for the island of Ireland”.

He said: “Many of the challenges facing the world today are shared across the island, whether climate change, energy security, good jobs, and ensuring that our workforces have the skills they need for the future.

“I will also take this opportunity to wish the First Minister and deputy First Minister well in their roles to achieve the best for all the people of Northern Ireland.

“We are working with the Executive to build on the peace and prosperity of the last 26 years to make sure it is shared by all.”

Later this evening, Mr Varadkar will visit Áras an Uachtaráin to officially hand in his resignation as Taoiseach to President Michael D Higgins.

Government investment in NI projects

In recent months, the Government in Dublin has announced hundreds of millions of euros of investment in projects in Northern Ireland.

It includes €600m for the building of the A5 linking Co Donegal to Co Monaghan through counties Tyrone and Derry.

€50m has been set aside for the development of the GAA’s Casement Park in Belfast.

There will also be cash to improve cross-border rail links and build a new bridge linking Warrenpoint in Co Down with Omeath in Co Louth.

Today’s meeting of the North South Ministerial Council is the first since July 2021.

The DUP withdrew from the council in September 2021 in opposition to new post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

The move was subsequently deemed to be unlawful by a Belfast court.

The party later pulled out of the Stormont Executive in February 2022, collapsing the power-sharing institutions for two years.

They were restored earlier this year following a deal between the DUP and the British government.

Meeting at time of political flux

The meeting is an important affirmation of the re-establishment of normal politics on the island.

It comes at a time of political flux in both Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Simon Harris is poised to take over as Taoiseach following a Dáil vote tomorrow.

Unionists will take the opportunity to assess the man who they will be dealing with in the months ahead.

Mr Harris has said he is not prioritising a united Ireland and is instead focusing on practical areas of cross-border co-operation.

He told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that “instinctively” he wanted to see a united Ireland but that his priority was on harnessing the “full potential of the Good Friday Agreement”.

“I think the First Minister and Deputy First Minister are doing the people of Northern Ireland proud, I congratulate them and thank them for the stability they’ve brought to what’s been a very difficult period in Northern Ireland, even in recent weeks,” he said.

“The priority right now in my view is for the people on the island of Ireland to live in peace, live in prosperity, get to know each other better, co-operate and collaborate.”

The meeting also comes at a sensitive time for the DUP whose leader Jeffrey Donaldson, resigned after being charged with historical sexual offences.

He is due in court later this month.

His deputy, and East Belfast MP, Gavin Robinson, has taken over as interim leader.

Additional reporting: Mary Regan

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