Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has taken part in Belfast's pride parade for the first time.

Mr Varadkar joined thousands of people attending this year's march in the city centre.

His presence will be seen as significant as same-sex marriage remains a contentious political issue in Northern Ireland.

The parade, which kicked off from Custom House, made its way through the city.

Mr Varadkar's visit comes two years after he attended a pride breakfast in Belfast to promote the rights of the LGBT community.

Ireland's first openly gay Taoiseach was not able to attend the parade that year as he had other official engagements.

In June last year, after meeting senior leaders of the Orange Order and representatives of the two main communities in Belfast, he stopped for a pint in the city's popular gay bar, The Maverick, where he spoke to staff and a number of customers.

Mr Varadkar also joined 60,000 people in Dublin for its pride march in June this year.

The Taoiseach said that Northern Ireland's biggest parade isn't orange or green, but "rainbow-coloured".

Speaking in front of thousands of people at Belfast's Custom House Square, he said: "I want to say how great it is to be in Belfast today.

"I always say the biggest parade that happens in Northern Ireland isn't orange or green, it's rainbow-coloured. It's really great to see it today.

"I had a real honour today to walk with Lord Hayward, who, along with Conor McGinn, put the legislation through the Commons and Lords to bring about marriage equality here in a few months' time. So we really want to thank them.

"What we see today in Belfast is Northern Ireland at its very best. Open, inclusive, diverse and for everyone."

Meanwhile, the head of BBC Northern Ireland addressed the "confusion" around staff members attending the parade, saying the broadcaster was not participating corporately.

The BBC has faced questions over impartiality since announcing staff in the organisation's pride group would be attending the event.

A memo to workers issued last week said staff would be participating in the annual pride parade wearing BBC-branded T-shirts.

A statement also mentioned BBC Northern Ireland in the context of employees taking part.

BBC NI director Peter Johnston acknowledged there had been "confusion" about the "terms and basis for BBC staff involvement in the Belfast Pride parade 2019".

He said while members of the BBC Pride staff network - an employee-led initiative - would be taking part, BBC NI as a corporate body would not.

"We know that there are legislative issues specific to Northern Ireland in relation to same-sex marriage," he said.

"These raise important considerations for the BBC in the context of its editorial guidelines, including the requirement to maintain due impartiality within our output.

"None of this means that members of the BBC Pride network cannot be involved in pride festivities in Belfast, but it does require BBC Northern Ireland to avoid creating the impression that it has a position on matters of political contention or controversy.

"The BBC's editorial guidelines provide clear advice in this regard. It is on this basis that BBC NI will not be involved corporately in the Belfast Pride parade and that individual programme brands will not be represented."

Members of the gardaí and PSNI are taking part

UTV staff members are taking part in the parade for the third time.

The ITV-owned organisation participated in the event for the first time in 2017, with several well-known UTV broadcasters taking part.

A spokeswoman for UTV said the company was proud to be involved.

Northern Ireland remains the only part of the UK where gay marriage is illegal.

That could change however, after landmark legislation was passed by the UK parliament, which will allow same-sex marriage if devolution is not restored by 21 October.

The changes will not come into effect if Northern Ireland's two main parties, Sinn Féin and the DUP, can reach an agreement to form a new Executive before the deadline.