Irish PM Leo Varadkar has insisted his plans to attend a Pride event in Northern Ireland are not meant to “unsettle anyone”.
It was announced earlier this week that the Republic of Ireland’s Taoiseach will attend a Pride breakfast during a visit to Belfast, north of the border.
The move is likely to provoke Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), strong opponents of LGBT rights who have blocked equal marriage in Northern Ireland.
But Mr Varadkar told the press this morning that he was not trying to “unsettle” people by attending.
According to the Belfast News Letter, the gay leader told media: “I will be attending the Pride breakfast tomorrow morning in Belfast and I’m doing that not in an attempt to unsettle anyone.
“I accept fully that marriage equality is a [reserved issue for Northern Ireland] to be dealt with by the Assembly if and when it is up and running, and I think the Assembly will deal with it if and when it is up and running,
“[I wanted to] express my support and that of my government for equality before the law and individual freedom for all citizens, just as I would in any other part of the world.”
The leader went on to praise Northern Ireland’s police force, who are due to march for the first time.
He said: “I think it is a really positive sign that for the first time the PSNI and Gardai will be marching in uniform at the Pride parade which I understand is the biggest single parade, the biggest single march happening in Northern Ireland this year.
“And I think that is very significant and it talks about a very different Northern Ireland and perhaps that gives us hope as to what Northern Ireland might look like in the future.”
The leader told the media that he was not planning on bringing up equal marriage with DUP leader Arlene Foster in a meeting during his trip.
He said: “I raised it last time we met I don’t think it’s going to be raised today unless she raises it.
“The focus of the talks today is going to be on Brexit and on re-establishing the Northern Ireland executive and that’s what I want to focus on today.
“And I think the assembly will deal with it, if and when it’s up and running.”
He said previously, of raising the issue: “I met with Arlene Foster and the DUP last week in Dublin, and at that meeting I expressed my very strong view that marriage equality should be permitted in Northern Ireland.
“The majority of people in Northern Ireland want that, the majority of members in the Northern Ireland Assembly want that, and I expressed very clearly my view that the Petition of Concern mechanism should not be used to block marriage equality in Northern Ireland.
“As you can appreciate, Arlene Foster and the DUP have a different view on this matter. They made me aware of their views.
“There wasn’t a meeting of the minds on this issue, but I will certainly continue to raise it.”