Derry unionists call Varadkar comments ‘cheap opportunism’

Some think Tánaiste’s Irish unity remarks motivated by electoral contest with Sinn Féin

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s strongly pro-united Ireland speech has been criticised by unionists. Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s strongly pro-united Ireland speech has been criticised by unionists. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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“Dial down the rhetoric” was the call to Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar from many unionists following the Tánaiste’s strongly pro-united Ireland speech on Tuesday night.

In the loyalist Fountain estate in Derry, Mr Varadkar’s comments were viewed as opportunistic.

“He’s obviously trying to reach out to a certain section of his electorate. He’s not really talking to unionists,” said Jonathan Burgess, a loyalist theatre producer who works in the Fountain.

“To me it’s hot air and a bit of smoke and mirrors to try and speak to people down there who may be dithering on whether they want to take a harder line with Sinn Féin or whether they want to stick with his party. That’s all I see it as being.”

Change

Referring to Mr Varadkar’s comments that the Republic would have to “be willing to consider all that we’d be willing to change – new titles, shared symbols”, Mr Burgess said that “some of the assertions he makes are quite accurate”, though he questioned whether there is a genuine will for change such as a new flag.

Brian Dougherty – a community worker with the Londonderry Bands Forum and the North West Cultural Partnership currently based in the Fountain – reached a similar conclusion.

“With an election coming up, there’s always opportunism going on, in the sense that they have to out-green one another,” he said.

“It’s all bluster,” he added, explaining that he did not believe there was any interest in a Border poll any time soon.

“It’s a kind of cheap opportunism but it’s not really surprising either at the end of the day, it’s something we’ve come to expect from all nationalist or republican parties for quite a while.”

Privately, Mr Dougherty’s experience of political representatives in the Republic has been different: “They say they’ve no desire to be pushing for a referendum at this stage because of the civic instability it would create.”

In the small estate, the residents appeared largely unconcerned. “I don’t think it’ll be in my lifetime,” said one woman about the prospect of a united Ireland, “though we do talk about it, and it looks like they [in the Republic] will try to push for it soon”.

“I don’t think comments like this help, because it creates fear that if this gets pushed through, what will happen?”