Ireland 'fully committed member of EU' regardless of what happens after Brexit – Varadkar

IRELAND will remain a “fully committed member of the EU” regardless of anything that happens after Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Opening a four-hour debate on the UK Withdrawal Agreement, the Taoiseach said the negotiations which led to the deal showed the true value of EU membership.

Mr Varadkar said while the importance of being in the EU is often measured in monetary terms, this country understands the other significance.

He said: “We’ve had unwavering support throughout. There can be no better example of EU membership for a small country. The intangible benefits of solidarity among 27 EU members are incalculable.”

Although it is not necessary for the Dáil to approve the deal, a symbolic vote which is expected to easily pass will be held later tonight.

Outlining the deal, Mr Varadkar said it represented “a good outcome for Ireland, the EU as a whole and the UK itself”.

Both the Taoiseach and Tánaiste Simon Coveney also lauded British Prime Minister Theresa May for her efforts to get the deal across the line in the UK.

They also heaped praise on Michel Barnier, who Mr Coveney described as a “formidable chief negotiator for the EU and for Ireland”.

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Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin confirmed his party will support the Dáil motion.

He said if it is passed by the UK and EU parliaments it would be “politically and economically a welcome step forward”.

“For the first time in its recent history, Northern Ireland would have a competitive edge,” he said.

Mr Martin said the deal was a “balanced text” even though the EU side “went to the very limit of their mandate” to help reach a proposal that could be approved in London.

And he promised that even if changes to the wording are made at the summit of EU leaders this weekend, Fianna Fáil “will not be looking for issues to cause controversy” so long as the core commitment to the ‘backstop’ is honoured.

However, Mr Martin did have some criticism for the Government who is said “always put politics first”.

He claimed the first reaction of ministers to the Brexit deal last week was to question how they could create space for an election.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has said there must be a referendum on Irish unity if the United Kingdom crashes out of the EU without a deal.

She told the Dáil many within unionism are now seeing the value of all-island cooperation in areas like trade.

She said they are looking at the post-Brexit environment “through a new lens”.

“There are now many within unionism who are assessing old allegiances. They are now being challenged to ponder the future,” Ms McDonald said.

She added that as a result of Brexit, we are now “on the road to a unity referendum”.

“It’s no longer ‘if’ but ‘when’.”

Ms McDonald said that if British Prime Minister Theresa May can’t deliver on the deal and the UK crashes out, then it would be “incumbent” on the UK government to provide for a referendum on a united Ireland.

“The people of the North should have their say. This is a reasonable position,” she said.

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