Thursday 23 January 2020

Philip Ryan: 'Varadkar can kiss goodbye to his credentials as true republican'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Not long ago, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney were being lauded as true republicans for standing up to Britain during Brexit negotiations.

The Government's opinion poll ratings soared when Mr Varadkar claimed he had secured a "cast-iron" Brexit deal from former UK prime minister Theresa May.

That didn't really work out but still voters liked the idea of the Taoiseach getting one over on our one-time colonial overlords.

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It played well to that nostalgic sense of dislike we have for our nearest neighbours, which is always bubbling below the surface.

The Government's humiliating U-turn on holding a commemorative event for the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) shows that dislike can boil over at any moment.

The republican credentials that Mr Varadkar secured through his handling of Brexit negotiations, especially through his talks with Boris Johnson, were almost destroyed overnight.

Yesterday morning, the Taoiseach was still insisting on holding the event. But just hours later Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan cancelled next Friday's commemoration.

The controversy also brought into focus the political judgment of Mr Flanagan, who is being blamed for proposing an event for the two controversial police forces.

The minister is also fresh from his disastrous handling of Fine Gael's by-election campaign in Wexford.

The RIC commemoration debacle would certainly lose Fine Gael votes if an election was called any time soon and might now convince Mr Varadkar to hold off on dissolving the Dáil for as long as possible.

Mr Flanagan will certainly not be the most popular member of the parliamentary party when it meets on Friday and his reputation for being a safe pair of hands is somewhat diminished.

However, when the hysteria around the commemoration calms down the same questions about how we remember those who died during the War of Independence and Civil War will remain.

It also begs the question how far away is the island from unification if we can't deal with events which happened 100 years ago?

For example, can we expect unionists to move on from bombings in the 1980s and wave goodbye to Britain if we still take offence over events which happened when the vast majority of us weren't even born?

While there was a stream of politicians quick to attack the Government's botched handling of this particular commemoration, there were few ideas from them on what should be done. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was more nuanced in suggesting that the commemoration should be replaced by an event remembering all those who died during the period.

Less is possibly more when it comes to commemorating the many tragic events that happened in the last century.

Irish Independent

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