Two visits and critical reaction

If you visit a place, does that mean you approve of that place? That’s the assumption on which two critical stories today are built.

The first concerns An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who apparently has checked out a male-only site during his visit to northern Ethiopia. Leo left the females in his entourage at the gate, while he viewed an historic monastery of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Taoiseach’s spokesperson said “Like many churches, convents, temples and mosques, they have rules about who may enter…It is appropriate the respect the rules and customs of different cultures and religions.”  The very fact that his Office felt the need to issue the defence suggests that some people are frowning on his visit.

The other story concerns Sinn Féin, who accepted an invitation to attend the inauguration of President Maduro in Venezuala. There are many in opposition parties in Venezuala who have denounced the recent election of President Maduro as a sham. Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin president, has said that there many homeless people and poverty-stricken people in the south of Ireland who object to Leo Varadkar but that he is accepted as Taoiseach. The implicit comparison was with Venezuela’s President Maduro and those objecting to him. The south of Ireland, the US and the EU have condemned Maduro’s election. “It really shows that the mask has slipped” was the comment of Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell on Mary Lou.

Personally, I think people should be allowed to accept invitations to visit places if that’s what they want to do. Leo’s visit to the Ethiopian monastery doesn’t mean that he thinks keeping women out of holy places is a good idea.In fact I imagine he doesn’t approve of such things, but accepts that people have  a right to draw up their own religious rules.

Likewise, I think Sinn Féin were entitled to accept the Venezuelan invitation. The fact that the US and the EU and the south’s government don’t approve of the elected Venezuelan president is a matter for them. I’m guessing that Sinn Féin approve of the freshly-elected President Maduro but I don’t know. Certainly the disapproval of the US government is no indicator of anything: the US disapproved of Hugo Chavez when he was Venezuelan president, even though (or maybe because) he nationalized key industries, provided education and health services for the most neglected people of his country.

In the end, it depends on whether you see a visit to another country and its government as being an endorsement of that government. I certainly hope it doesn’t:  President Trump has spoken of visiting North Korea in the near future.

As to Deputy Farrell’s “the mask has slipped” line, the good Deputy is simply flattering by imitation his party’s present leader, who talked about Pearse Doherty’s “balaclava slipping” (can a balaclava slip?) and Fine Gael’s former leader Enda Kenny, who, when asked a question on anything – the economy, education, the environment – by Gerry Adams was given to replying by pointing out the damage the IRA did to the economy, education or whatever. Alan Farrell is just being a good Fine Gael TD who knows which side his political bread is buttered on and likes to eat it on high moral ground.

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