Given the patently racist accusations made against him by right-wing British journalists and publications over the years, with allegations of an exaggerated sense of Irishness due to his ethnically mixed parentage, one would imagine that Leo Varadkar might be acutely sensitive to the false stereotyping of any minority person or community in this country. Unfortunately for the Fine Gael leader he has a habit of saying the quiet things out loud, as happened yesterday when he attacked Sinn Féin by claiming that the party had no elected representatives from a Protestant background in its ranks, casually equating membership of the Protestant faith or tradition in Ireland with being British. Which will come as a surprise to my Presbyterian relatives. From The Irish Times:
Mr Varadkar, in an interview on RTÉ Radio’s News at One, claimed that Sinn Féin was an obstacle to Irish Unity. He claimed the party’s relationship with unionism was one of mutual hostility.
“They are sectarian. They are anti-British. They have no Protestant TDs, MLAs, or Senators. I believe for a united Ireland to be achieved they need to talk about the unity of people just like Nelson Mandela when he spoke about South Africa being a rainbow nation.
“They need to accept that there are 1 million people in Ireland who identify as British… and their flag is orange not green.”
Though he has subsequently withdrawn his accusation against Sinn Féin, albeit in a typically surly manner, Varadkar’s implied belief that to identify as a Protestant in Ireland is to identify as British is itself base religious sectarianism. Perhaps we should not be surprised by this given Fine Gael’s political ancestry in a conservative counter-revolutionary faction that allied itself to the Roman Catholic Church in 1922-23 to overthrow a secular Irish Republic and replace it with a theocratic Irish Free State? The neoliberalist apple doesn’t fall too far from the Blueshirt tree. And an apple that is apparently unaware that the flag of millions of Irish Catholics, Protestants and Dissenters includes the colours green and orange.