Chance for fresh thinking on North
'Just what is going on in Dublin?' the Democratic Unionist Party not unreasonably asked following the election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach and his appointment of Simon Coveney as Minister for Foreign Affairs, two events which have ushered in a notable change of tone in Government in relation to political events in Northern Ireland.
Last week Mr Varadkar again showed a certain level of impatience with both the main parties in the North and the UK government. However, on Brexit, he has correctly identified the two distinct issues for British policy after departure from the European Union, which are the UK's relationship with the single market and the customs union. If Mr Varadkar wanted to put his own stamp on the Irish approach to negotiations between the UK and the rest of Europe, he has succeeded, but at the cost of ruffling a few feathers. It could hardly have been otherwise.
He took on the two main political parties in Northern Ireland over their failure to form an Executive. On that issue, he was entirely correct. When he criticised those favouring a hard Brexit, he was also speaking directly to a majority of the Cabinet in the UK. The DUP chief whip, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, found the Taoiseach's address "intemperate, inconsistent and incoherent". The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, seemed less upset, and was content, at least, that Mr Varadkar has ruled out Mr Coveney's preference for a UK-Ireland border in the Irish Sea. Could the Taoiseach's dismissal of this suggestion herald his intention to exert his authority over Mr Coveney and the Department of Foreign Affairs in relation to Northern Ireland?