Varadkar visit a chance to reset tone of cross-border dialogue

Morning View
Morning View

There has been an increasingly concerted nationalist push for special arrangements for Northern Ireland after Brexit.

This has included, as DUP politicians such as Jeffrey Donaldson and Arlene Foster have said, megaphone diplomacy from Dublin.

Not only has the foreign minister, Simon Coveney, been outspoken on a range of issues, including demanding that the Province adopt an Irish Language Act, but the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, echoed Mr Coveney in saying (in effect) that there will be no hard land border. Both men implied that the border will move to the Irish Sea, and then retreated from that sort of talk.

Meanwhile, a hopelessly one-sided Irish parliamentary report on Brexit and Irish unity has been published.

Unionist politicians are right to dismiss such rhetoric, and to point out that it is unhelpful, but even so unionist vigilance is now required. There is no shortage of politicians in London who would enforce a border at the Irish Sea rather than antagonise nationalists with even minor checks at the border (if the EU ultimately demands such).

Such an internal UK border, while almost inconceivable under a Tory government propped up by unionists, could be imposed if a sudden election threw up a different administration. The best thing unionists can do now is to help to keep the Conservatives in Downing Street.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney can say what they want. But they ought to be able to see that their interventions are not making any of the outcomes that they desire any more likely.

Mr Varadkar is one of the most interesting politicians in the Republic: a fiscal conservative of partly Indian heritage who is openly gay. There is a range of views on the appropriateness of him attending a gay pride event in Belfast but he will nonetheless be welcome in Northern Ireland.

The meeting between the DUP and Mr Varadkar today is a chance to reset the tone of cross-border dialogue.