Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland is ‘only matter of time’, says Irish PM Leo Varadkar

Mr Varadkar turned up at gay Pride breakfast in Belfast in what he called a ‘support for equality’ for the LGBT community

Jeff Farrell
Saturday 05 August 2017 19:36 BST
The Taoiseach spoke out ahead of the Pride parade where up to 8,000 are expected to march across the city for LGBT rights
The Taoiseach spoke out ahead of the Pride parade where up to 8,000 are expected to march across the city for LGBT rights (Getty)

Ireland’s prime minister has predicted it is “only a matter of time” before same-sex marriage is introduced in Northern Ireland.

Leo Varadkar spoke out in what he called a “support for equality” after he attended a Belfast Pride breakfast in the second day of his first official visit there.

Mr Varadkar – who is the Republic’s first openly gay leader – championed the LGBT cause just days after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of the Democratic Unionist Party warned him not to “interfere in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland”.

Same-sex marriage is outlawed in Northern Ireland – unlike in the Republic and the rest of the UK where it is legal.

Mr Varadkar said change to the law in Northern Ireland was on the horizon while he put in his show of support for the LGBT community at Pride Breakfast event at the Northern Whig pub in central Belfast.

He said: “I think it’s only a matter of time although it is of course a decision for the Northern Ireland assembly to take, but I am confident that like other western European countries they will make that decision in due course.”

The Taoiseach added that he had turned up at the event “to state my support, my government’s support for equality before the law and individual freedom for all citizens no matter where they happen to reside”.

Police Service of Northern Ireland and Garda officers also joined Mr Varadkar at the event, arriving in a police Land Rover.

For the first time uniformed officers marched in the Pride parade through the city centre. They were greeted with massive cheers from the crowds who lined the city’s streets to watch the colourful annual event.

Around 40 uniformed officers from Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and other UK police forces were amongst the 8,000 people who marched from Custom House Square in the city centre, watched by an estimated 15,000 supporters.

It was the biggest parade to take place in the region this year.

The PSNI has come under some criticism for allowing officers to join the parade, with accusations their participation will undermine the organisation’s stated neutrality in the region.

However, the PSNI has insisted that participation in the event “is about inclusion and representation”.

“We represent all sections of society. Members of the LGBT community are a marginalised community in Northern Ireland,” said Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray.

She added that the PSNI’s presence at the events might encourage victims of hate crime to come forward and report them.

Same-sex marriage has been one of the sticking points preventing the return of a devolved powersharing administration at Stormont, with Sinn Fein demanding the DUP stop blocking changes to the law.

The DUP, Prime Minister Theresa May’s partner in government, has used a controversial Stormont voting mechanism to prevent the legalisation of same-sex marriage, despite most Assembly members supporting the move at the last vote.

The DUP rejects any suggestion it is homophobic, insisting it is protecting the “traditional” definition of marriage, and has called for tolerance of what are increasingly minority views.

It does not have enough members in the new Assembly to veto an equal marriage vote on its own, but there is no immediate prospect of the deeply divided administration being restored.

Mr Varadkar did not stay for the Pride parade because of other commitments.

On Friday a rainbow Pride flag was raised at a UK Government building at Stormont for the first time. The flag was raised beside Stormont House on Friday morning to mark the Pride festival.

Additional reporting by agencies

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