The leaders of the ‘confidence and supply’ partnership in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin, have both said they wish former SDLP leader Mark Durkan was still an MP.
In a joint attack on Sinn Féin the leaders of the two largest parties in the Dáil said they “regretted” Mr. Durkan had lost his seat to Elisha McCallion in Foyle in 2017.
Mr. Martin described Mr. Durkan’s defeat last year as a “big loss” after the Taoiseach referred to having delivered a key note address at a St. Columb’s College Past Pupils’ Union dinner in the former MP’s honour six weeks ago.
Said the Fianna Fáil leader: “Mr. Durkan was a close confidant of, and great adviser to, John Hume. He was a member of the British Parliament.
“Regrettably, he lost his seat in the last general election. He is a big loss to politics in Northern Ireland.”
Mr. Martin whose party has been engaged in talks with the SDLP over cross-border co-operation criticised Sinn Féin’s abstentionist policy, which has been maintained by Mrs. McCallion since she became the first republican to win a General Election in Derry since Eóin MacNeill took his mandate into the First Dáil.
He said Mr. Durkan would have taken his seat and voted in support of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
“He would have cast his vote in Westminster if he had been elected to support the draft withdrawal treaty on Brexit, which is now before the British Parliament.
“In many ways, honouring Mark Durkan illustrates the silence in NI of the anti-Brexit majority, who do not have any public or parliamentary forum through which they can articulate their views on Brexit,” said the Cork T.D.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald rejected Mr. Martin’s claim that the ‘anti-Brexit majority’ did not have a forum to articulate their support for the North remaining aligned with the European Union (EU).
“I disagree that the anti-Brexit majority has been silent. The facts speak to the contrary. In fact, it has met the Taoiseach in political form - ourselves from Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the SDLP and the Greens.
"The anti-Brexit majority has spoken loudly well beyond politics in the business community with which we, and no doubt the Taoiseach, have worked closely, through agriculture, academia, the trade unions and the community sector - one could not miss them. The message is unmissable regarding the anti-Brexit position,” said Mrs. McDonald.
However, the Taoiseach, backing his ‘confidence and supply’ partner’s position, said: “I concur with Deputy Micheál Martin. Mr. Mark Durkan very much deserves his honours.
“He was a very effective politician as a Minister and an MP. He is an able persuader and a witty and articulate parliamentarian. He made a very thoughtful but also very witty speech on the night.
“I regret that he lost his seat because it has left the city of Derry unrepresented in Westminster, which leaves Derry and the residents of the Foyle constituency without a vote on Brexit.”