Varadkar still has a lot to learn about northern politics

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

It’s too early days to form an opinion of the new man with the unpronounceable surname at the helm in the south of Ireland, Leo Varadkar.

His predecessor Enda Kenny was the quietly spoken type who took life seriously, probably bowed down by the fact he wasn’t all that well liked by his subjects.

Leo Varadkar during a visit to Gay Pride in Belfast recently

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Leo Varadkar during a visit to Gay Pride in Belfast recently .

Taoiseach Varadkar is rather different and his presence at a breakfast event in Belfast for the big Gay Pride event – he has openly declared himself as gay – left quite a mark on us.

Could we do business with this man or has he some form of hidden agenda not yet disclosed to us? My spies in the south haven’t yet formed an opinion other than he is the ‘interfering type’ which could be open to interpretation. Varadkar’s visit north, he said, was to express his support and that of his government for equality before the law and individual freedom for all citizens.

Belfast’s Gay Pride parade, he said, he understood to be ‘‘the biggest single parade, the biggest single march happening in Northern Ireland this year’’ and ‘‘perhaps that gives us hope as to what Northern Ireland might look like in the future’’.

I doubt if the Gay Pride parade was bigger than the city’s annual Twelfth day extravaganza but I wasn’t there. It may outstrip the Twelfth in size as the years go on but that’s the future. I’m still chewing over what he meant by the rest of that statement.

It’s very hard to guess what our province will, as he says, look like in the future. We all remember how quickly the South changed when it joined the EU.

Millions of euros flooded into the country changing it beyond recognition. It wasn’t long before housing in Dublin became as expensive as London’s and the café culture swept through the country.

It became a place for the young who saw themselves as more European than Irish leaving the older generation behind clinging to its culture and traditions. Then it all fell apart, the housing market collapsed, the young turfed out of jobs, found themselves emigrating to foreign lands just as their ancestors had to do.

The North suffered too in the recession leaving both parts of the island struggling in different ways. The EU, that behemoth of inefficiency and political claptrap, ploughed its own furrow, refusing to change its waywardness. And then came Brexit the UK deciding it had had enough of being bossed around by Brussels.

It has taken a woman to bring Mr Varadkar down a peg over how he can help NI which the Taoiseach appears to think has no one to speak for it in Europe now that it has no Executive up and running (thanks to the immovable Sinn Fein). Our brave pro-Brexit Labour MP Kate Hoey reminded him recently that it was for the UK Government to speak on behalf of Northern Ireland and that he should also ‘stick up’ for the UK in Brexit negotiations with the EU. And the indomitable Ms Hoey didn’t stop there advising that ‘‘given all the other things he’s said in the last week, he should be very careful when he comes to Northern Ireland with what he says.’’

So Mr Varadkar arrived and couldn’t help himself, declaring he was willing to ``drop everything’’ to end the political deadlock but only if he believed it will make a difference.

His predecessor did much the same but it made little difference to the intransigent Sinn Fein which appears to have switched its strategy of changing society here through changing the rules at local government level. Their biggest success to date is over the bonfire issue.

The new Taoiseach hasn’t yet got the measure of Sinn Fein and I doubt he will. Already leading economist Dr Graham Gudgin has declared the Taoiseach’s proposals for the Irish border after Brexit as `incoherent’. This new man on the block has a lot to learn.