Tag Archives: Leo Varadkar

George H.W. Bush, disengaged during Troubles, dies at 94

Irish political leaders are offering their condolences on the 30 November death of former U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush.

“He will be remembered for the directness with which he expressed his policy principles and his efforts to achieve bipartisanship,” Irish President Michael D. Higgins said in a statement. “On behalf of the Irish people I offer our deepest sympathies to his family and to the people of the United States.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted:


Unlike U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, Bush never had much of a relationship with the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Bush was Reagan’s vice president from 1980 to 1988, then won the office in 1988, spanning some of the bloodiest years of The Troubles.

Once Clinton defeated Bush in the 1992 U.S. election, he sought to “establish distance” from his predecessor’s approach to Ulster, according to John Dumbrell in “The United States and the Northern Irish Conflict 1969–94: from Indifference to Intervention,” a 1995 piece.

George H. W. Bush

“The Bush administration had followed a cautious, State Department line, strongly opposing the MacBride principles and interpreting the situation in the province as ‘unripe’ for mediation.” … Since the Carter presidency of the late 1970s,  “Washington has asserted the legitimacy of its interest in the province and-with the exception of the Bush years-presented something approaching a coherent, interventionist strategy.”

The Good Friday Agreement was reached during Clinton’s second term of office, 20 years ago this year. In 2010, introducing Clinton for a Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award, Bush recognized his successor’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

Trump to visit Ireland in November

UPDATE:

It appears as of 11 September that the visit is being scratch. There is confusion and conflicting statements from the White House and media sources.

UPDATE:

Protesters say a giant “Trump Baby” blimp will fly over Ireland during the U.S. president’s November visit.  … Of more than 2,500 people taking Irish Central’s online poll, 71 percent said Trump “shouldn’t visit” Ireland.

ORIGINAL POST:

Not two weeks since Pope Francis left Ireland, it has emerged that U.S. President Donald Trump will visit the country in November. The timing will be either just before or right after Trump attends a Paris event marking the centenary of the armistice ending World War I.

Trump will visit his golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare, and Dublin, according to press reports. His itinerary also will have to accommodate the scheduled 11 November inauguration of the Irish President, as well as a planned Irish commemoration of the 1918 peace.

The timing is within days after U.S. elections on 6 November, when Trump could face a rebuke if Democrats take one of both chambers of Congress. As it turns out, I also will be traveling in Ireland, 7-13 November, for the 2018 Newspaper and Periodical History Forum of Ireland Conference, “The Press and the Vote.

Talk of massive protests against Trump is quickly beginning to stir, along with push back from opposition leaders in the government and members of the current Irish administration.

“Yes, we have strong disagreements with [Trump’s] policy decisions but we also have a very friendly relationship with the United States,” Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told The Irish Times.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t have direct discussions from a policy perspective. That is how mature countries interact with each other. Rather than taking approaches that are unhelpful and will damage a relationship, we will have blunt, straight and honest discussions with a friendly country.”

Obviously, this story will develop over the next 10 weeks.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House during the annual St. Patrick’s Day ceremony.

As abortion referendum nears, Ireland seems divided

Republic of Ireland voters head to the polls Friday, 25 May, for a referendum to decide whether to repeal or retain the anti-abortion Eighth Amendment in the country’s constitution, which gives equal value to the life of the fetus and the woman.

Early polling showed the repeal side favored to prevail, but the margin has narrowed in recent weeks, and anything is possible in the final days of the campaign on such an emotionally charged issue.

Here’s a short roundup of news and commentary as of 20 May, starting with a background piece:

History lesson: What happened during the 1983 abortion referendum?

An extremely strong campaign had emerged early in the 1980s to lobby the government to introduce a ‘Pro-Life amendment’. The move came in the wake of the Roe versus Wade verdict in the U.S. Supreme Court, which allowed for the introduction of less restrictive regimes. There was genuine fear in Ireland that the courts could do something similar here unless a Constitutional provision prohibiting abortion was introduced. … [The Eighth Amendment] passed on 7 September 1983 with a 67 percent majority. It was signed into law just one month later.

From TheJournal.ie

As polls narrow before the [2018] abortion vote, is rural Ireland setting up a Brexit moment?

The polls have narrowed so much that a result once nearly taken for granted now hangs in the balance; the media are under fierce attack for bias; and questions are swirling about foreign influence and online ads. … The long shadow of two recent surprise election results – the Brexit referendum across the Irish sea, and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential poll – is hanging over Irish voters. … The final result is expected to hinge on the one in five voters still undecided.

Emma Graham-Harrison, The Guardian

‘Dark ads’ cast a shadow over Ireland’s referendum on abortion

Attempts by Facebook and Google to tackle ‘dark ads’ and foreign interference in the run-up to Ireland’s referendum on abortion haven’t been entirely successful, according to an online transparency group.

From CNN

The Irish Exception

[Repealing the amendment] would put an end to an all-but-unique experiment in Western public policy: an attempt to combine explicitly pro-life laws and generally pro-family policy making with a liberalized modern economy and the encouragement of female independence and advancement.

Ross Douthat, The New York Times

Irish abortion referendum: Abortions could be offered to NI women

Women from Northern Ireland could cross the border to have an abortion if there is a yes vote in the upcoming referendum. … Abortions are only allowed in Northern Ireland if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health. Rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally. Currently women from Northern Ireland can travel to England to have a free NHS abortion after charges were abolished in June 2017.

From the BBC

Legalizing abortion would betray Ireland’s future

In Ireland, one might suspect that on a sociopolitical level this referendum is further evidence of a longer-term reaction against the Catholic Church, whose decline in authority and influence in Ireland has been paralleled by referendums in 1995 that legalized divorce and in 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage. If so, there will be no small irony involved: that the Catholic Church’s support for the Eighth Amendment will hurt the amendment’s chances in Ireland.

The Editors, America, the Jesuit Review

One way or the other, the referendum will change Irish politics

If it is a No vote … the consequences for Leo Varadkar’s Government will be calamitous. This shaky and unsure coalition is almost certainly in its last year – actually probably its last six months – … and a defeat on Friday would be sufficiently destabilizing to bring the end closer, and maybe much closer. It is hard to see how the Government could muster the political capital to do anything after such a devastating defeat. … [A Yes vote] will reinforce the image of Varadkar as a young, liberal, progressive leader – and crucially as one who wins elections … [and] would carry the Government through the forthcoming Brexit travails and into the autumn budget.

Pat Leahy, The Irish Times

Which side will prevail in Ireland’s abortion referendum? Image from the BBC.com

Catching up with modern Ireland: January

I’ve spent January producing my Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited blog serial, which explores aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Thanks for the great reader response. Before the next post, I want to catch up with the month’s developments in modern Ireland and Northern Ireland:

Tourism poster of Innisfallen, Killarney, in County Kerry, from the 1920s.

Ireland avoids snap elections … for now

The resignation of Irish Tánaiste (Deputy PM) Frances Mary Fitzgerald has averted a pre-Christmas election in the Republic, but has increased the certainty of a poll in 2018.

The already precarious confidence-and-supply agreement between Fine Gael Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and coalition partners Fianna Fáil “may survive another few months, but make no mistake: the election countdown is now on,” The Irish Times wrote in an editorial.

The Times turned its harshest fire on Varadkar, saying the political showdown “provided the first real test of his judgment as taoiseach, and he failed it … [he] allowed his stock to diminish inside and outside his party.”

Leo Varadkar (From Evening Standard/PA Images.)

Debate begins on repealing Ireland’s abortion ban

Ireland will hold a national referendum by June 2018 on whether to repeal the constitutional amendment that bans most abortions. A referendum on removing blasphemy and “woman’s life within the home” language in the constitution is slated for next October. A third referendum on extending voting rights to Irish citizens living outside the Republic will take place in 2019.

“Any amendment to our Constitution requires careful consideration by the people,” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in the government’s 26 September announcement. “They should be given ample time to consider the issues and to take part in well-informed public debate.”

Ironically, announcement of the abortion referendum comes about nine months before the vote, set to occur the same summer that Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.

Dáil Éireann, the national legislative assembly, still must fix the final dates and, more importantly, the language for the referendums. On the abortion issue, the outcome could turn on whether the language is considered too liberal, or still restrictive.

The debate kicked off 30 September, as about 30,000 people attended the annual “March for Choice” in Dublin. The New York Times reported:

The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1983, gives an unborn child a right to life equal to that of its mother. At the time, Ireland was seen as one of the most conservative Catholic nations in the world, but a series of church scandals and growing secularism have the country rethinking many of its government’s positions. The United Nations has called the amendment a violation of women’s rights.

In 2015, Ireland became the first nation in the world to legalize same-sex marriage by popular referendum, rather than through legislative or judicial orders. The Times suggested the marriage issue was less contentious than abortion, quoting one woman who said “it was something that no one was scared to speak out on, but this is a very personal thing that people are more hesitant to speak about,”

The Guardian said, “The religious right in the country, particularly lay Catholic groups, see the [abortion] referendum as their last chance to roll back 25 years of social liberal reform.”

March for Choice in Dublin, 30 September. Photograph by Dara Mac Dónaill, The Irish Times.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.