Election of Simon Harris as Taoiseach a chance to ‘reset relationships’, says DUP chief

Gavin Robinson says new leader a chance for Dublin Government ‘to learn from missteps of previous administration, which gravely damaged southern relationship with unionists’

The election of Simon Harris as Taoiseach is an opportunity to “learn from the missteps of the previous administration” and “reset relationships” between unionists and the Irish Government, the DUP interim leader has said.

Gavin Robinson congratulated Mr Harris on his appointment and said he looked forward to engaging with him “in due course”.

Addressing members and supporters of the North Antrim DUP Association in Ballymena on Tuesday evening, Mr Robinson said “the Republic of Ireland is our nearest neighbour, and I want us to be good neighbours with sensible co-operation”.

“This is an opportunity for the Dublin Government to learn from the missteps of the previous administration, which gravely damaged the southern relationship with unionists,” he said.


The former taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was accused by unionists of threatening violence – which he vehemently denied – during the Brexit negotiations, when he used the example of the bombing of a customs post during the Troubles to emphasise to Brussels why there could not be a hard border on the island of Ireland.

He was also criticised for his support for a united Ireland, a potential pressure point which Mr Harris has already kicked into the long grass, saying to Sky News earlier this week that it was a “legitimate aspiration, but not a priority”.

Mr Robinson said Northern Ireland was a “divided society, and progress has only ever been made through consensus”.

Unsurprisingly, other Northern parties also emphasised the need for the new Taoiseach to maintain strong North-South links.

The SDLP leader, Colum Eastwood, welcomed the new Taoiseach’s “abiding interest in the North”, and said he looked forward to working with him “to strengthen North South co-operation, which has suffered as a result of the suspension of devolution in the North, to build on the work of the Shared Island unit, and to continue the important work of bringing the people and traditions that share our island together”.

The leader of the Alliance Party, Naomi Long, said she wished Mr Harris “all the best” in his new role.

“The tenure of his predecessor Leo Varadkar saw a close and productive working relationship further progressed between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and I am confident Mr Harris will continue to nurture this positive partnership between the North and South,” she said.

Meanwhile, although Westminster is practically deserted due to the ongoing parliamentary recess for Easter, Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak and the man vying to replace him, Labour leader Keir Starmer, congratulated Mr Harris within moments of each other on Tuesday afternoon.

The Labour leader was first out of the traps, writing on Twitter/X that he looked forward to working with the Taoiseach “as we seek to strengthen the ties of friendship between our two countries”.

McDonald hits a nerve as Harris takes the reins

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Exactly two minutes later, Mr Sunak took to the social media platform with a similar message. The prime minister said he looked forward to “forging even stronger ties” with his Irish counterpart “so we can deliver for people across these isles”.

From Edinburgh, Scotland’s first minister Humza Yousaf took time out from an exceptionally difficult day, during which his wife’s brother was charged with involvement in an alleged abduction, to send his “warmest congratulations” to Mr Harris. “There can be no greater honour than leading the country you love,” he said.

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, also sent her congratulations to the new Taoiseach. “We will work hand in hand to deliver for the people of Ireland, and for Europe as a whole,” she said.

Mr Harris is due to travel to Brussels on Thursday, where he will meet Dr von der Leyen, as well as Roberta Metsola, the Maltese politician who is president of the European Parliament.

The Taoiseach’s first engagements will come ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels next week, which is expected to discuss plans to make the union more competitive economically.

“I had very productive discussions with the Taoiseach, in his previous role, about growing links between United States and Ireland in the higher education sector and about deepening our research collaboration,” US ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin said in a statement. “As we mark 100 years of diplomatic relations, I look forward to working with the Taoiseach to further strengthen the partnership between our countries and the friendship between our people.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times