Varadkar takes step in ‘right direction’ by wearing poppy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Irish parliament, the Dail, in Dublin on Tuesday
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Irish parliament, the Dail, in Dublin on Tuesday

Unionists have given a warm welcome to the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s decision to wear a poppy in the Dail, the Irish parliament.

The taoiseach wore an Irish-themed red poppy set against a shamrock badge in the Dail on Tuesday.

DUP MLA Jim Wells hailed the taoiseach’s gesture as a sign of the growing “normalisation of Remembrance” in the Irish Republic.

His party colleague, Gary Middleton MLA, also welcomed the move as a “step in the right direction”, while the former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said of the taoiseach’s decision: “That’s leadership.”

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, meanwhile, described it as “a positive decision recognising our shared history”.

Mr Varadkar’s predecessor Enda Kenny broke new ground in 2012 by attending a Remembrance Sunday service in Northern Ireland, at Enniskillen.

He laid a laurel wreath at the town’s war memorial on that occasion and every year since.

Mr Varadkar will also attend the service in Enniskillen this Sunday as the local community marks the 30th anniversary of the notorious IRA Poppy Day bombing in the town.

A spokesman for the taoiseach said he had been given the shamrock poppy by Fine Gael Senator Frank Feighan.

“The shamrock poppy recognises Irish soldiers who fought in World War I,” he said.

“It was commissioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War by the Irish branch of the Royal British Region to remember the 206,000 Irishmen that fought, 26,500 of whom died in battle.”

Mr Wells said: “It is extremely welcome. There have been difficulties commemorating, especially the First World War, in the Irish Republic and the fact that the Irish prime minister has agreed to wear a poppy is very significant, very welcome and will be welcomed by the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “I believe it is a further move towards normalisation of Remembrance throughout the island of Ireland.”

Mr Middleton also praised the taoiseach for deciding to wear the poppy, saying: “It is a very welcome show of respect and I think it has been recognised as such by most of the political parties in the south.”

Mr Varadkar faced recent criticism after describing Eamon de Valera’s “finest hour” as keeping the south neutral in the face of the sprawling Nazi war machine of World War II.

He made those comments last month at the launch in Dublin of David McCullagh’s book ‘De Valera: Rise 1882-1932’. Mr Varadkar said his predecessor was not always right, but described his achievement in keeping Ireland neutral in WWII as “probably his finest hour”.

UUP chief whip Steve Aiken MLA said Mr Varadkar had exercised “poor judgment”.