Two more MEP seats 'almost in the bag' for Ireland if UK leaves the EU - Varadkar

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has claimed it is "almost in the bag" that Ireland will have two more MEP seats if the UK leaves the EU - but has insisted he has no plans to allow citizens of Northern Ireland a say on who is elected to the roles.

Mr Varadkar made the comments as he separately confirmed a referendum on whether Irish citizens living abroad can vote in presidential elections is likely later this year amid a growing talk of his party entering a presidential election race this autumn.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Speaking to reporters after an informal European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, Mr Varadkar said there is now "strong support" for Ireland to be given at least two more MEP seats when they are vacated by Britain's planned EU departure next year.

Asked about the mooted plans to increase Ireland's MEP representation to 13, Mr Varadkar said it and separate plans for Ireland to retain a European commissioner place are "almost in the bag".

However, he said it "wouldn't make sense" for citizens of Northern Ireland to vote on the two new Irish MEP seats due to their cross-border citizenship as they would not be impacted by EU rules post-Brexit.

During the same briefing, the Taoiseach also said he "anticipates" a referendum potentially "this autumn" to allow Irish citizens living abroad to vote in presidential elections.

The plan came after Mr Varadkar had yesterday morning told reporters his party has not ruled out running a candidate in a potential autumn presidential election - which would be unaffected by the referendum result - after current incumbent Michael D Higgins strongly hinted he intends to seek re-election.

"President Higgins has been an excellent president for Ireland. Fine Gael will make a decision after we know his intentions, for sure," he said.

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