Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin show little real understanding of North

Posted By: March 06, 2019

Brian Feeney. Irish News. Belfast. Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Two dreadful contributions to The North’s politics in the last ten days from the Taoiseach and Micheál never-to-be-taoiseach Martin. Let’s take them in reverse order with Varadkar’s speech to the Alliance party pre-conference dinner first.

His speech was a return to the pre-Good Friday Agreement fantasy politics rejected by both governments and the electorate in The North. Varadkar said he shared Alliance’s ‘vision for reconciliation and a shared and integrated Northern Ireland’. Does he really not know that the problem here is an ethnopolitical one, or a politico-ethnic one, readily identified by every political scientist who has looked at it, and whose governing mechanisms in 1998-9 were devised accordingly? Would he go to Belgium and tell them the solution lies in a reconciliation between Flemings and Walloons, or to Switzerland and advocate integrating French and German-Swiss? What sort of nonsense is that?

He went on to identify credulity in that political cul-de-sac as ‘a progressive position’, despite the fact that Alliance and get-alongers have got nowhere in fifty years because the electorate is correct and they are deluded. Varadkar discerned ‘a broad center ground’ visible only to him and, ‘the growing numbers who feel they are British and Irish’. Piffle.

Fact: in the 2017 British election Alliance got 7.9 percent and no seats; in the 2017 assembly election they got 9.1 percent; in the 2016 Assembly election, they got 7 percent. Fact: there is no ‘broad center ground’. The same weekend as Varadkar was peddling that fantasy the Chief Constable was saying, politics ‘is more polarized, more entrenched, less creative’ than twenty years ago. Who’s speaking the truth based on evidence?

Varadkar announced he intends to be ‘an honest broker’. That’s exactly the opposite of what he’s required to be. As Taoiseach, his duty is to advance Irish unity. The Supreme Court declared that objective a ‘constitutional imperative’. The Good Friday Agreement requires the British government to act with ‘rigorous impartiality’ – which they do not – but not the Irish government. Besides, Unionists will never see any Taoiseach as an ‘honest broker,’ and how does that silly objective square with his promise, ‘to the nationalist people…you will never again be left behind by an Irish government’? Especially when he told his audience that, ‘sadly [EU rights to travel and study etc.] will not be the case for those who hold British citizenship alone’? Eh?

Turning to Micheál Martin’s vacuous remarks about The North, naturally, they were motivated by his obsession to be Taoiseach and his loathing of Sinn Féin, his major obstacle as he sees them. He can’t get ahead of Varadkar in the polls, so his only hope is leading a coalition. Therefore the more seats SF, the third largest party, win, the less chance he has. All his fire is concentrated on that party. After the ard fheis, in an extraordinary interview with RTÉ’s Áine Lawlor, Martin exonerated Arlene Foster and blamed the collapse of the Assembly solely on Sinn Féin. He ignored the fact that Martin McGuinness (despite Sinn Féin’s voters’ frustration) wanted to hang in, and that if Foster had agreed to stand aside temporarily, she would still be First Minister. Martin didn’t answer Lawlor’s question about Foster walking away from last year’s deal that never was, but harked back to Sinn Féin pulling the plug in 2017.

Sadly, the SDLP has now become his patsy in The North whose raison d’être is to join in the attack on Sinn Féin. The result is that its featherweight leader has adopted Fianna Fáil policy. He got applause for his 180-degree switch on a border poll which Eastwood advocated at the SDLP conference in 2017 and during 2018. Like Martin, he now places unconditional return to an Assembly as the priority. The SDLP is now truly the northern wing of Fianna Fáil, acting as its willing catspaw in a futile attempt to enable Micheál Martin to become Taoiseach.

No wonder Mark Durkan has flown the coop to Fine Gael, horrified at the half-in, half-out, subordination to Fianna Fáil. You’re either an all-Ireland party like Sinn Féin, or you’re not. Unfortunately, Durkan is going to Europe so he won’t be in a position to set Varadkar right about the facts of life in The North.