Northern Ireland

Irish PM to attend Belfast gay pride event

Leo Varadkar on stage at Pride festival Image copyright PA
Image caption Leo Varadkar became the first Irish leader to march in a Dublin Pride event in June

Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has confirmed he will attend an event at Belfast's gay pride on Saturday.

His visit to Northern Ireland on Friday will be his first since taking over from Enda Kenny in June.

Mr Varadkar is the country's first openly gay leader and has been vocal about campaigning for change in NI.

Asked about the DUP's views on same-sex marriage, he said: "I won't be making any compromises."

Same-sex marriage is legal in the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK, but not in Northern Ireland.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Varadkar said he would use his office to promote gay rights globally

At Dublin's Pride event in June, Mr Varadkar pledged to use his position to campaign for this to change.

Speaking to The Irish Times, he said he was unable to attend Saturday's march because of a sporting event.

Mr Varadkar said: "I will attend the Pride breakfast on Saturday morning in Belfast to express my support for equality before the law for Catholics, Protestants, non-religious people, men, women, gay people and straight people.

"And I won't be making any compromises about that for anyone."

However, former DUP minister Nelson McCausland said Mr Varadkar should keep out of Northern Ireland politics.

"Many unionists will have a concern that Leo Varadkar is taoiseach of the Irish Republic.

"He has responsibilities south of the border, and they will find it odd if he starts to interfere, as in some ways he already has done, in what is a social issue in Northern Ireland around the redefinition of marriage."

Last month, thousands attended a demonstration in Belfast calling for legalisation.

This year's Pride event will see Northern Ireland's PSNI officers parade in uniform for the first time, and invited the Irish Gardaí to join them.

Same-sex marriage has been a contentious subject at the Northern Ireland Assembly, where members have voted five times on the issue.

On the fifth time of asking, in November 2015, they voted in favour by a slim majority of 53 votes to 52.

However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) used a Stormont veto, known as a petition of concern, to prevent any change in the law.

Image caption Leo Varadkar discussed same-sex marriage when he met DUP leader Arlene Foster in Dublin on 16 June

During his first official meeting as Taoiseach with DUP Arlene Foster on 16 June, Mr Varadkar raised the issue of same-sex marriage.

He later said there was "not a meeting of minds" on the subject, but added he believed it was "not a matter of if, but when" Northern Ireland changed its law.

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