Leo Varadkar has dismissed claims by the Loyalist Communities Council that he is no longer welcome in Northern Ireland.
The LCC, a group representing loyalist paramilitary organisations, said Irish Government ministers and officials would not be welcome as long as difficulties over the Northern Ireland Protocol remain.
But Mr Varadkar has rejected the suggestion, saying the LCC do not represent the views of the majority of Unionists or people in the North.
Leo Varadkar has rejected claims by the Loyalist Communities Council that Irish Gov Ministers are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland. pic.twitter.com/BK71y8xPzy
— James Ward (@newswardie) June 19, 2021
He said: “With the greatest respect to them, I don’t think the Loyalist Community Council decides who’s welcome in Northern Ireland and who isn’t.
“I’ve always felt welcome in Northern Ireland, I was there last week, in Co Fermanagh and I felt very welcome.
“Irish Government ministers will continue to travel to Northern Ireland to engage with people from all backgrounds.
“We’re always willing to engage with anyone who’s willing to engage with us and and that’s going to continue.”
In a statement on Friday, the LCC issued a statement in which it urged the DUP to collapse Stormont “to stop the constant flow of concessions to Sinn Fein”.
The umbrella group – which represents the views of the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando – also warned the Irish Government would be unwelcome in Northern Ireland until they “repair the damage they have created”.
It said: “The continued denials and insulting commentary from the Irish government proves the extent to which they misled European leaders with regard to the views of the people of Northern Ireland, and the guarantees for both communities contained within the Belfast Agreement.
“Until they accept and repair the damage they have created, Irish Government Ministers and Officials are no longer welcome in Northern Ireland.”
They have previously met with former DUP leaders Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster, and some have questioned their level of influence on Northern Ireland politics.
However, Mr Varadkar declined to condemn the group on Saturday, saying it was “appropriate” that there was engagement with them.
He said: “I think they represent a group of people, a section of the unionist and loyalist community. And for that exact reason, I think it is appropriate that there should be some engagement with them.
“In the past, we have to engage with people who are associated with Republican paramilitaries.
“That’s something that you have to do in politics. But I don’t think for a second that they speak for the majority of unionists, or the majority of people in Northern Ireland.”
The LCC statement followed the decision of Mr Poots to resign as DUP leader after internal party fury over his decision to nominate a first minister after Westminster pledged to introduce Irish language legislation.
In a statement on Friday, the LCC cited its “dismay” over “recent instances of capitulation to Sinn Fein blackmail” and a lack of progress in attempts to get rid of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
It called for unionism to unite to “peacefully protest” against the protocol.
“We appeal for continued restraint and peaceful protest even in light of these latest provocative and destabilising developments” the statement said.