There was some confusion last Wednesday about Leo Varadkar’s comments to a weekly meeting of Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas when the Taoiseach reportedly claimed that “the tectonic plates of Irish politics are shifting” in relation to the United Kingdom’s legacy colony in the north-east of the country. Some took it as a reference to the toxic influence of the UK’s Brexit debate on the Six Counties and more generally on the deteriorating relations between the two island nations. Others, however, saw it as a pointed reference to the possibility of a near-future referendum on the reunification of Ireland. An all-island national and regional vote most politicians in Dublin heretofore believed was decades away, if ever.
The revelation by the Sunday Independent that Fine Gael has been polling voters over the question of Irish unity, specifically, should the country “…move towards a United Ireland, if this made sense following a Brexit deal”, lends weight to the latter interpretation of Varadkar’s words. It’s clear that the FG leader, a canny exponent of a new style of Irish (sub)urban middle-class politics, senses something potentially momentous in the national zeitgeist. For our Instagram Taoiseach, to be credited as the party leader who initiates the return of the long denied Fourth Green Field is surely a tempting prospect, however tentative his thoughts. It might be a reunited Ireland by osmosis, the start of a long journey rather than a speedy arrival at the final destination, but even a stepping stone to unity would earn him his place in the history books as the (tweet-wielding) Michael Collins of the 21st century.
And what ambitious Blueshirt wouldn’t want that as his political epitaph?