Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his trip to Northern Ireland was deliberately low-key, after he was accused of “poor manners” by a DUP MP who said he failed to follow protocol.
Mr Varadkar headed north of the border on Monday after meeting EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Dundalk – but the trip was described by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as an example of “disrespect”.
The Taoiseach said he had informed the Northern Ireland Office about the visit in advance and had just wanted to meet with local people without an entourage of politicians, officials and media.
Speaking at Leaders’ questions in the Dail, Mr Varadkar said: “It was a deliberately low-key visit.”
He said he had only met officials and politicians on recent visits to Northern Ireland, adding: “I just wanted to do something low key and talk to everyday people about their concerns about Brexit and their hopes for the future.”
On Monday, Mr Donaldson said: “Leo Varadkar’s visit is another demonstration of the poor manners and disrespect which appears to be the Irish Government’s Brexit strategy.
“Having told unionists just over a month ago that he recognised statements and actions by the Irish government were unhelpful or intrusive, he follows this up with a visit which no local representative is informed about and none of the other normal protocol is followed.”
Mr Varadkar told the Dail on Tuesday: “In terms of protocol – the protocol is that I contact the Northern Ireland office, that’s done by my protocol department.
“So my protocol department contacts the Northern Ireland Office, that is the protocol.
“And we have to do that because they provide security, and we did have some Police Service of Northern Ireland security with us.
“In the absence of an Executive of course, it is not possible to contact the Executive or Government in Northern Ireland because there is none.
“So I contact the Northern Ireland Office instead.”
The Northern Ireland Office confirmed correct protocol was followed.
Mr Varadkar said he felt very welcome during his visit, which included stops at Warrenpoint Port and New-Bridge Integrated College.
“I felt very welcome anyway, whatever others may have to say about it.
“I certainly felt very welcome in Northern Ireland and I intend to visit again,” he said.