Editorial: Leo Varadkar seemed to promise a new politics yet moved Fine Gael in a greener direction

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News Letter editorial on Thursday March 21 2024:

​It is a curious twist in north-south politics that unionists latterly have had some of their warmest relations with Fianna Fail leaders.

​Bertie Ahern cultivated unionist friendship and Micheal Martin was sensitive to unionist concerns – and was scathing about the IRA.

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While the recently deceased ex Fine Gael Taoiseach, John Bruton, made similar efforts to build bridges, a newer generation of that party has not done.

Leo Varadkar, who has suddenly quit as Irish prime minister, helped move Fine Gael away from being more understanding than Fianna Fail of the British tradition.

Mr Varadkar was by no means unfriendly when in Northern Ireland, for example showing interest in the Orange Museum and in Windsor Park on visits there. But he and his FG colleague Simon Coveney were architects of the Irish Sea border, moving the Irish government away from the pragmatic approach to Brexit of their predecessor, Enda Kenny. Both told Northern Ireland it must pay the Sinn Fein ransom of an Irish language act. It was Mr Varadkar who, disgracefully, showed European leaders a picture of a historic IRA attack on a customs post in a misleading suggestion that the UK would be to blame if such terror returned.

Mr Varadkar’s government has had the nerve to sue the UK on legacy, when Ireland’s role in harbouring republican terrorists has never been examined.

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Mr Varadkar was in many respects an impressive man and politician. Of Indian heritage, he was a medical doctor and open about his same-sex orientation, while not preachy about it.

Perhaps he has above all been a reflection of the the recent greening of southern politics, rather than someone who pushed it. It is an irony of modern Ireland that the decline of the traditional Irish Catholic, conservative, male hierarchy has led, if anything, to an increase in anti British, Irish nationalistic sentiment.