Minister of State John Halligan is waiting for a reply from the North Korean embassy in London after he sought permission for a parliamentary visit to the reclusive state.

Mr Halligan wants to visit North Korea along with two Independent Alliance colleagues, Minister for Transport Shane Ross and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said the Government does not support any parliamentary delegation visiting North Korea at this time.

In a statement this afternoon, the department said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney had spoken with Mr Halligan, and that they have agreed the department will provide Mr Halligan with a full briefing on North Korea next week.

The department says Ireland fully supports the EU policy on North Korea and the international sanctions regime against the country.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he understands that Mr Halligan spoke to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the matter.

Speaking to Irish journalists at the Twilio jobs announcement in San Francisco, Mr Varadkar said: "It's not something that I envisage going ahead, I am sure that it is motivated from good intentions on his part."

The Taoiseach also said "it is a dangerous place to go" and that he would not want anything "beastly" happening to any Minister of State or member of Government.

North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes have led to increasing tension with US President Donald Trump, who has warned that the US may have to destroy North Korea if Kim Jong-un's regime threatens its neighbours.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, with the largest in September drawing widespread international condemnation.

Timeline - US and North Korea nuclear standoff

Speaking earlier on RTÉ's Today with Seán O'Rourke, Mr Halligan said he wanted to hold talks with government officials from North Korea.

He said the greatest threat to peace at present is the nuclear threats being issued by Mr Kim and that he would hope to ask the North Korean leader to engage in democracy.

Mr Halligan said this potential trip would not be on behalf of the government, rather the three TDs would be "going as a group of three prominent politicians in a country highly-respected around the world for its neutrality".

"What is there to lose by attempting to talk peace with North Korea as I have done with the Palestinians and have done with the Israelis?"

He said the visit would be an attempt to "rekindle contact through cultural groups like Comhaltas".

Mr Halligan said he has not discussed the request for a visit with the Taoiseach.

"So far we haven't engaged with the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Taoiseach, as I've said we would be going there as three democratically elected politicians in Ireland to try and talk peace," he said.

"This would not be a government mission to talk about Government policy on North Korea or the world."

The Waterford TD said he hoped the government would "come on board", but that if the Department of Foreign Affairs advised against the visit, that he would heed that advice.

He also added that the three TDs would be paying their own way for the visit and there would be no cost to the State.


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Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said that he was "flabbergasted" when he heard about Mr Halligan's proposal.

Speaking to RTÉ News, Mr Cowen said he sees no benefit in Mr Halligan going to North Korea.

Meanwhile, National Bus and Rail Union general secretary Dermot O'Leary has described the suggestion that Mr Ross may go to North Korea as "dumbfounding".

"I thought, listening to the radio that I had fallen into a deep sleep and woken up on the 1 April," he said.

"The suggestion, in the middle of a major rail dispute, that Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, would go off to North Korea in a bizarre attempt to establish relations with a regime that has an appalling record on human rights, where the word democracy is banned, is nothing short of dumbfounding.

"[It] is a clear demonstration of how much Mr Ross and his Independent Alliance colleagues are out of touch with what is happening on their own doorstep.

"That the minister would seek to pander to a missile-toting megalomaniac, while rail unions are coming under pressure to take the nuclear option of striking over the Christmas/New Year period is simply preposterous."