Varadkar and Sunak to visit Belfast in wake of restored powersharing at Stormont

Taoiseach and UK prime minister to hold bilateral talks while in Northern Ireland

Leo Varadkar and Rishi Sunak

The Taoiseach and the UK prime minister are to travel to Belfast following the restoration of powersharing in the North.

Leo Varadkar and Rishi Sunak are set to hold bilateral talks while in Northern Ireland for meetings following the re-establishment of the Assembly and Executive.

They are also due to meet the new Executive ministers and MLAs.

Mr Varadkar said he had spoken by phone to Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly, the new first and deputy first ministers, “to congratulate them and wish them a fair wind in their work”.


Following a “very positive weekend”, the Taoiseach said he was looking forward to meeting Mr Sunak “to discuss the welcome return of the Assembly and the Executive”.

“We both want to see the Good Friday agreement work for everyone on the island,” he said.

Ministers in the Northern Executive are expected to meet on Monday, with a first sitting of the Assembly planned for Tuesday.

The Minister for Health, Robin Swann, has written to trade unions inviting them to “early discussions” aimed at settling the dispute over public sector pay which led to mass strike action last month.

“That is my immediate priority and I want to see pay negotiations being initiated without delay,” he said.

The UK government has promised to release a funding package following the restoration of the Northern institutions, which includes money earmarked for public sector pay dispute, though it is not yet clear if the amount provided is sufficient.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Ms O’Neill said Northern Ireland’s funding model was “the number one priority issue that we have collectively” in the Executive.

Devolved government was up and running for the first time in two years on Saturday, after the DUP made a deal with the UK government to end its boycott over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill, who was nominated as First Minister, became the first nationalist to hold the post in Northern Ireland’s history, while the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly took the role of Deputy First Minister.

Mr Sunak, who arrived in Northern Ireland on Sunday evening, is expected to focus on community engagements during the two-day visit.

Speaking during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland in Lisburn on Sunday night, Mr Sunak said there was a “fantastic cause for optimism” after the return of Stormont and said there was now a “special opportunity” for the North’s political leaders.

He said the £3.3bn represented a “generous and fair settlement for Northern Ireland” and it would ensure public finances were “sustainable for the long term.”

Downing Street said he would meet “emergency responders, community heroes and families of those directly helped by the service” on Sunday.

On Monday the UK prime minister will be welcomed to Stormont Castle by Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly as joint heads of government in Northern Ireland.

He will also meet the leaders of the North’s political parties and the new Stormont ministers at Parliament Buildings.

Mr Sunak will also “continue community engagements, which will focus on the future of Northern Ireland and the hopes of the generations to come, following last year’s marking of 25 years since the signing of the 1998 Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement. - Additional copy PA

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Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times