Taoiseach calls for same rights for all in UK and Republic of Ireland

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People in Northern Ireland should be afforded the same rights as citizens of the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar said people living in the Republic, Northern Ireland and the UK should all be able to enjoy the same rights.

The Taoiseach was referring to rights-based disputes that are standing in the way of a return to devolved government at Stormont.

A stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the republican party's demands for legislative protections for Irish language speakers and an end to the region's ongoing ban on same sex marriage lie at the heart of the powersharing crisis.

"People in Ireland and in Britain can marry their same sex partner, I don't see why Northern Ireland should be exceptional in that regard," Mr Varadkar told the Dail.

"The same thing apples to issues such as language legislation and language rights.

"If these apply in Ireland, Scotland and Wales I think they should also apply in Northern Ireland."

The comments came on the eve of a new talks process aimed at saving the devolved institutions at Stormont.

The exchanges, which are due to get underway in Belfast, will be the fifth round of formal talks between political parties since the collapse of powersharing just over one year ago.

Tanaiste and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney will participate in the negotiations at Stormont.

Speaking in the Dail, the Taoiseach re-stated the government's commitment to restoring powersharing and said he would be discussing the matter with Prime Minister Theresa May this week.

Responding to a question put by Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, Mr Varadkar stood by previous comments that he made in relation to Brexit that he would not leave Irish people in Northern Ireland behind.

"It's something I meant and it is something I will follow up on by meeting non-political people, leaders from civic society in Northern Ireland in the weeks and months ahead," he said.

He added that getting the Assembly and the Executive back up and running was something people wanted to see happen.

The talks have been initiated by UK Secretary of State Karen Bradley.

Ms Bradley, who was recently appointed, has said there was an urgency about the talks and they should take weeks and not months.

She is due to update the House of Commons on progress on February 7 but on Tuesday she insisted that date was not a deadline, more a "milestone".