Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Leo Varadkar loses control! Ireland’s caretaker leader powerless as ‘unionism weakens’

Ray Bassett, the country’s former ambassador for Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, suggested Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin were vying for the top job – as well as arguing the development was indicative of a shift in Ireland in favour of a push towards Irish unity. Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin formerly signed off on an outline framework for a new Irish government, paving the way for an unlikely coalition – although they would need another, junior partner to make it work. If such an arrangement came to pass, it would mark the first such deal since the Irish Civil War of 1922 to 1923.

Mr Bassett told “There has been an undoubted shift in Ireland, both in the Republic and among Nationalists in the North, towards support for Irish unity.

“The policy document drawn up by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail reflects that tendency.”

The combined support of the two parties fell short of commanding an overall majority in the Dail, Ireland’s main legislature, mean it would need support from one of the smaller parties, Mr Bassett said.

He explained: “In general the latter are strongly left-wing and Nationalist, apart from the much reduced Irish Labour Party.

“The section on a united island in the policy document would be attractive to these groupings.

“The inclusion of this material could also be seen as a counterweight to Sinn Fein’s campaign for a border poll.”

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He added: “In addition, with changes in the voting patterns in Northern Ireland, there does seem to be a reasonable case for studying the implications of a successful border poll here and the consequences for both administrations on the island of Ireland.

“I think Leo will stick to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and wait until it is likely a unity referendum would succeed.

“This would probably mean when a majority in Northern Ireland vote for parties in an Assembly election which want a referendum.

“That stage has not been reached so far although support has grown for it.”

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As for Mr Varadkar’s personal ambitions, Mr Bassett said: “It looks that Leo will stay on as Taoiseach while the present critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

“However I imagine Micheal Martin will be anxious to take over as soon as possible, once the crisis has abated somewhat.

“They will probably split the next four years between them as Taoiseach, with Martin taking the bulk of the next two years.

“I honestly think he would only back a border poll when he believed it would win and that will be determined by developments in Northern Ireland. Therefore he is not really in control of events.

“In many ways, he is reacting to the changing situation north of the border where Unionism seems to be weakening.”

Speaking to RTE radio yesterday, Mr Martin refused to be drawn on who would be Taoiseach – and when.

He said: “We have a broad understanding on many issues. I’m not going any further than that.

“It is not about personalities, it is about the content and subject matter of the programme for government.

“Can we get a significant majority of people in Dail Eireann behind a coherent programme for government that can take us through this emergency and enable the country to recover?

“The Dail is more fragmented than it has ever been historically and that demands that people have to engage and have an obligation to form a government. The country needs a government.

“We are in extraordinary times, people are very worried out there and they are very concerned about their health, jobs, incomes and mortgages.

“In my view, that means that we need a solution to try and take the country through.”

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