‘Fair play to him’: Minister reacts to Varadkar wearing poppy

Sinn Féin says it was mistake for Varadkar to wear poppy in Dáil as emblem is divisive

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wearing a shamrock poppy badge while speaking at the Dáil.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wearing a shamrock poppy badge while speaking at the Dáil.

 

A senior Minister said there “should be absolutely no controversy in a mature Republic” over Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wearing the poppy emblem.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended the Taoiseach, who wore a version of the emblem in the Dáil yesterday called the shamrock poppy.

It commemorates those who died during the First World War between 1914 and 1918.

However, Sinn Féin said it was a mistake for the Taoiseach to wear the poppy as the emblem remained a divisive one in Ireland.

Mr Harris said that he himself has worn the poppy because it is a fact that many thousands of Irish had died during that four-year war.

He said wearing the commemorative symbol should be left to the discretion of each individual.

“There is not a hierarchy of Irish people or of patriotism. Irish people factually died in these wars. The fact is that these were airbrushed out of history for a long time.

“We are a mature Republic. We have an ability to commemorate and celebrate factual historical events.

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“I say fair play to Leo for doing it. The former Irish ambassador to London Dan Mulhall laid a green Irish poppy wreath at the Cenotaph for the past three years. Irish presidents have gone to Northern Ireland and to the Somme.”

Mr Harris said the most remarkable thing about yesterday was the lack of controversy surrounding the decision.

A divisive symbol

Sinn Féin Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn criticised the Taoiseach’s decision on the grounds that the poppy remained a divisive symbol in Ireland.

“He had no difficulty in remembering the tens of thousands of men from across Ireland, unionist and nationalist, who were slaughtered in the First World War.

“Indeed, I have participated in cross community remembrance events in Ireland and France and Belgium myself.

“But the poppy in any form is a divisive symbol here in Ireland and it was a mistake for the Taoiseach to introduce division where there is unity on this matter on the island.”

There was uncertainty about whether or not Mr Varadkar had broken any rules by wearing the poppy in the Dáil.

There are standing orders prohibiting party emblems or overt political messages, such as members of Solidarity-People before Profit wearing Repeal the Eighth t-shirts.

An Oireachtas spokeswoman said neither the poppy nor the Easter lily belonged to this category, as both were generic and could be worn by everybody.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, who was then chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, objected to Sinn Féin deputies wearing Easter lillies in the Dáil chamber in 2013.

A number of Fine Gael parliamentarians including Frank Feighan and Neale Richmond have worn the poppy for several years.

This morning, Mr Feighan said he wanted the lily and poppy symbols to be embraced by everyone in “middle Ireland”.

“We allowed the poppy to be taken over by Unionism and the lily to be taken over by Nationalism. We should commemorate both sides,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“Over the years we allowed certain symbols to be taken over by certain groups. We are now a mature republic. The people of middle Ireland have a right to remember the young Irish men who died.”

Mr Feighan said he did not find either symbol offensive and had worn both in the past.

The lily should also belong to everyone, he said and everybody should wear a lily next year.