Editorial: Simon Coveney was if anything greener in his politics than Leo Varadkar

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News Letter editorial on Wednesday April 3 2024:

For the better part of a decade, Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney have been a new generation in Irish politics.​

They rose to prominence in 2017, in the aftermath of Brexit, as Taoiseach and Tanaiste (Irish prime minister and deputy prime minister). Even now, seven years later, Mr Varadkar is aged a mere 45 and Mr Coveney 51.

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It is symbolic of the greening of politics in the Republic that Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney took a harder line on Northern Ireland than their Fine Gael predecessor, Enda Kenny, or than the Fianna Fail leaders Micheal Martin and Bertie Ahern, who was Taoiseach as far back as 1997.

It is often suggested that the increased nationalism of the two most prominent, and now outgoing, Fine Gael politicians was a response to the rise of Sinn Fein. But there is another explanation, which is that younger generations on both sides of the border are further away from IRA violence and so less outspoken about it. Mr Varadkar has been blamed in London conservative circles for a deterioration in British-Irish relations, but Mr Coveney was even more culpable. It took unionists and the Conservative government a while to see the more uncompromising Irish position that there must be no change at the land border, but it was spelt out by Mr Coveney at an SDLP breakfast in Belfast in November 2017, prior even to Theresa May’s ‘backstop’.

Mr Coveney, like Mr Varadkar, was not just ultimately an architect of the internal UK trade barrier, but he interfered on the Irish language and legacy and acted like a joint NI secretary. It was a low point in unionist politics when both the DUP and Julian Smith, the actual NI secretary, agreed a joint deal with Mr Coveney in 2020 in which the Irish government was allowed to delve deep into strand one matters such as nurses’ pay.

The political generation behind Mr Varadkar and Coveney might be less green but alas that seems unlikely.