leo gives Arlene a lesson on how to be inclusive and welcoming to all

Posted By: June 14, 2018

Allison Morris. Irish News. Thursday, June 14, 2018

When DUP leader Arlene Foster congratulated Fermanagh’s footballers last week, it was an act of outreach that reminded me of that much talked about the speech she made in London in May.

“Nationalism is by its nature narrow and exclusive”, she said. “Being a Unionist is the opposite. Unionism stands for pluralism and multi-culturism. We are inclusive and welcome all.”

Before the words were even out of her mouth there were those pointing out the flaws in her comments.

Modern unionism is arguably a cold house for women in crisis and members of the LGBT community, many of whom are also unionist, addressing that might be a better starting point before the DUP start giving out hugs to nationalists.

Mrs. Foster said she might attend the Ulster final involving her home county. If she did this could send the type of message and make the kind of political gesture badly missed since the Martin McGuinness era.

However, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Mrs. Foster is not in a great position. While she holds no executive role, with the failure to re-establish devolution, questions will continue to be asked about the viability of her leadership.

As long as the RHI inquiry continues to throw up embarrassing, and at times astonishing revelations, her role remains precarious.

Nigel Dodds is currently fulfilling a leadership role in the Brexit negotiations, with the ear of the cabinet and popular with the powerful Tory 1922 committee.

While Mrs. Foster continues to poke a stick at Sinn Féin —whom she needs to re-establish relations with if she is ever to get back into her first minister’s office-it looks like her days are numbered.

In Northern Ireland, as we know from the past, leaders often appear on the ropes only to bounce back in the final round, but Mrs. Foster is running out of ring time.

That not so subtle dig at her leadership by Peter Robinson in Queen’s University last week will have stung.

Mrs. Foster smiled and clapped at all the right moments.

However, when Peter Robinson said: “You are the leader. You are the one who has been there. You’ve seen the whites of your opponents’ eyes. You have had more time to consider the balance of the deal than your colleagues have.

“You will get little credit if it works, but you can be sure you will take the blame if it doesn’t. If you want support, you must not show any uncertainty. You must take ownership of the deal. Nobody can sell it better than you can”.

Who really believed he was talking about anyone other than Mrs. Foster and the now famed and much dissected Valentine’s day talks breakdown?

The day after the Robinson speech a very different style of leadership was on display. Leo Varadkar is changing the image of Fine Gael quite dramatically.

The ‘pro-treaty’ party have never found much favor among northern Republicans with long memories.

Once considered Catholic, Christian and conservative, he will be remembered as being the Taoiseach when the eighth amendment was repealed, when the Church’s role in politics was erased forever. You can see the journey Ireland has been on for a relatively short period of time.

His visit to Belfast started with a private meeting with Baroness Paisley, the widow of the late DUP founder Ian Paisley, and on to the Orange Order museum where he was given a warm welcome by the people of east Belfast.

He later launched the Féile an Phobail August programme in the heart of west Belfast.

A handful of pro-life supporters were present outside but that didn’t dampen the welcome and standing ovation he received inside.

Arlene Foster, maybe out of genuine concern, maybe misjudging the public mood, tweeted: “Very concerned at the message Leo Varadkar is sending with his apparent endorsement of all events at West Belfast festival”.

The festival programme which does include republican talks is also known for panel discussions involving unionists and loyalists.

Gregory Campbell, Jeffrey Donaldson, Gavin Robinson and even Mrs. Foster herself have spoken at the festival in the past.

Mr Varadkar finished his Belfast trip with a visit to one of the city’s gay bars, the leader of the once most conservative of political parties in the Republic showing the leader of the current most conservative party in the north how to stand for “pluralism and multiculturalism how to be “inclusive and welcome all.”