Leo Varadkar’s congratulation of Mary Lou McDonald in becoming President of Sinn Féin reminded me of Seb Coe’s congratulation of Steve Ovett, when Ovett beat him into second place in the 800 metres at the Moscow Olympics. As they shook hands on the podium, the TV critic Clive James said, Coe “looked like he’d just been handed a turd”.
Leo, being a well-brought-up man, would never stoop to such undignified imagery. He tells Mary Lou she done good and her family must be very proud of her. And then…
Well, then he goes on to explain how her succession will change nothing in terms of the relationship between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.
- “We’re a pro-European party, they’re Eurosceptic or ‘Eurocritical’ as they prefer to say, but it amounts to the same thing.”
- “We’re a party that’s pro-business and believes in lower taxes on middle-income people and they don’t believe in that.”
- “We’re a party that is globalist and internationalist and sees Ireland as a country that’s at the centre of the world, whereas Sinn Féin is nationalistic and sometimes even sectarian”.
- “I don’t see how the relationship between the two parties will change but certainly on a personal level, I want to congratulate her.”
You can see how pleased Leo is to see that Sinn Féin has a new leader. Let’s take his points in turn.
- Leo’s lot are “pro-European” while Sinn Féin are “Eurosceptical” or “Eurocritical.” The Taoiseach is a binary man: you either swallow Europe whole or you turn away from it. No question of being pro-Europe while still noting weaknesses and urging that they be addressed. As Will sang to Annie in Oklahoma! : “With me it’s all er nothin’”.
- Leo’s lot are for less taxes on the middle class and Sinn Féin are not. Mmm. Or to put it another way, Leo doesn’t believe in improving state services like health and education for everyone, whereas Sinn Féin does.
- Leo’s lot: globalist and internationalist; Mary Lou’s party: “Nationalist and sometimes even sectarian”. So Gerry Adams being at Nelson Mandela’s funeral was a mirage. As was Martin McGuinness’s outreach to unionism over a ten-year period. As are Sinn Féin’s links in the US, in Australia, in Canada, Sri Lanka, Catalonia, the Basque country – again, illusions, sleights-of-hand. No question of being proud of and concerned for your own country and seeing it as part of the wider family of nations. Nope. With Leo, it’s all er nothin’.
- Leo’s lot doesn’t see how Sinn Féin can change – leopard, spots, that kind of thing – but congrats anyway. That talk about clean skins succeeding the old guard in Sinn Féin making the differences: we didn’t really mean that. See leopard and spots above.
And so, with one latex-clad bound, an Taoiseach has made it clear that while as a gentleman he congratulates the fair Ms McDonald on her elevation, he is forced to say her party isn’t a bit like his party. Right back to Michael Collins, his party smells sweet; all the way back to Martin McGuinness and others, her party stinks.
Which brings us neatly back to Seb Coe and that handshake.