Northern Ireland

Leo Varadkar: Nationalist letter urges taoiseach over rights

James McClean, Peter Canavan, Terry George Image copyright Getty Images/Press Eye/Reuters
Image caption Republic of Ireland footballer James McClean, former GAA player Peter Canavan and filmmaker Terry George are among the letter's signatories

A letter signed by more than 200 nationalists in Northern Ireland has been sent to Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar urging him to protect the rights of citizens here.

The signatories are from sectors including the arts, sport and academia.

They include boxer Michael Conlan, former victims' commissioner Patricia McBride and Hillsborough campaigner Professor Phil Scraton.

The letter expressed "growing concern at the ongoing political crises".

It appealed to Mr Varadkar to "protect the rights of all citizens in the north of Ireland".

The letter said that the current political crisis had come about because of a failure to "both implement and defend the Good Friday and St Andrew's agreements".

"The result has been a denial and refusal of equality, rights and respect towards the section of the community to which we belong, as well as everyone living here," it said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The letter urged Leo Varadkar to "reassure us of your commitment to stand for equality"

Niall Murphy, a Belfast-based solicitor who was involved in drawing up the letter, told BBC's Good Morning Ulster that the Irish government must "robustly represent and protect the interest of a broad nationalist voice here in the north".

"There is an onus, I believe, on the taoiseach to hold the British government to account for the denial of rights and to secure the implementation of previous agreements," he said.

Northern Ireland has been without a power-sharing government since January.

The DUP and Sinn Féin have failed to reach an agreement in spite of numerous rounds of discussions since March's assembly elections.

'Appropriate politics'

Among the stumbling blocks are Sinn Féin's demand for legislation to give official status to the Irish language and the DUP's opposition to same-sex marriage.

Mr Murphy said that the issues are "much wider than any single political party".

"They are rights that can be enjoyed by all citizens on this island."

He added: "Rights enjoyed in Donegal should be enjoyed just as equally in Derry, rights enjoyed in Edinburgh and Cardiff should be enjoyed in Belfast - I'm speaking here in relation to marriage equality and language equality."

He also cited the failure to fund and continue legacy inquests into some of the Troubles' most controversial killings as adding to the "frustration" expressed in the letter.

"One would hope that this initiative is to supplement and assist more appropriate politics," he said.

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