The Irish Government is prepared to “go the extra mile” to find fixes to the Northern Ireland Protocol, Leo Varadkar has said.
However, the deputy Irish premier ruled out abandoning it altogether, saying all of the “realistic alternatives” have been rejected by Unionism.
Mr Varadkar said he is willing to engage with the next leader of the DUP to find solutions, but criticised the party’s unwillingness to compromise.
He said: “We are willing to engage through the European Union, with the British Government, in consultation with all of the parties in Northern Ireland.
“We’re willing to go the extra mile to provide any kind of practical fixes that we can within the terms of the agreement.”
But he added: “The protocol stays, unless somebody can come up with an alternative that means that, somehow, you can protect the single market.”
Mr Varadkar said the alternatives such as the backstop and the UK remaining in the single market and customs union had been rejected by “people who can only ever say no.”
He said staying in the customs union had been DUP policy “until they got captured by the ERG.”
The European Research Group, a collection of Brexit supporting Tory MPs, became close allies of the DUP when they held the balance of power in Westminster, and had pushed for a no-deal exit from the EU.
Mr Varadkar added: “The backstop, the single customs territory, those were all rejected.
“We said yes to all of those.
“We’ve always been the people who have said yes.
“The problem is there are some people who can only ever say no.”
Mr Varadkar also said he accepts criticism of comments he made on a united Ireland at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis during the week.
He came under fire for the timing of his speech, which discussed delivering reunification in his lifetime, at a time when the institutions in Northern Ireland were under threat amid turmoil in the DUP.
But the Fine Gael leader said there will always be people who do not want to talk about the future of the island.
He said: “I understand the criticism and I’m willing to take that on board.
“But it’s also the fact that there are people in this State who will always be uncomfortable about talking about unification.
“It will always be the wrong time.
“It was the wrong time during the three years of Brexit because of those sensitive negotiations.
“It was the wrong time this week because of the difficulties the DUP is having.
“It will be the wrong time for the next few months because of negotiations around the Protocol and the marching season.
“It will be the wrong time next year because we’re running into the Assembly elections, and it will be the wrong time after that.
“So for those people who are uncomfortable, including some of my own party, talking about unification, they will always be uncomfortable.
“But this conversation has already happened.
“There is no majority anymore in Northern Ireland, either for unionism or for nationalism, and a growing middle ground of people want to talk about this.
“Young people in particular, and we want to talk to them.”