Irish ambassador to UK accuses British magazine of anti-Irish bias over Brexit
Editor of The Spectator says it ‘loves Ireland’ and rejects claims of ‘snide and hostile’ campaign
Adrian O’Neill (left) shows a portrait of Séamus Heaney by artist Mark Baker to Britain’s Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall as they attend a dinner to mark St Patrick’s Day and celebrate UK-Irish relations on March 6th, 2019 in London. File photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty
Adrian O’Neill sent an open letter to the magazine’s editor Fraser Nelson stating that the “prevailing tone and tenor” of articles about Ireland and Brexit have been “with the occasional exception” anti-Irish.
Mr O’Neill was prompted by an article which appeared in The Spectator six days ago by The Daily Mail’s royal correspondent, Robert Hardman, which criticised Ireland’s decision to join the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, the French Commonwealth.
He commented on the irony of the fact that Ireland declared itself a Republic 70 years ago and left what was then the British Commonwealth.
“Only a cynic would suggest that this is a calculated two fingers to Brexit Britain. Only the mean-spirited would suggest that little Leo will do anything to suck up to the top gang in the EU playground. He is going to need to, of course, if he wants to hang on to his nation’s cosy corporate tax deals once the Brits are no longer around to help fight Ireland’s corner against big EU tax reforms.”
He went on state that Ireland had much more in common with other English-speaking nations of the Commonwealth, but has refused to rejoin “for no other reason than that it was once run by the Brits”.
Mr O’Neill countered by stating that Mr Hardman’s article was a particularly “egregious example” of The Spectator’s anti-Irish bias.
He pointed out that 17 EU member states are either members or observers of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, but “only Ireland’s affiliation incurs his scorn”.
Mr O’Neill said he was not “unduly thin-skinned”, but he noticed an increasing “anti-Irish sentiment which we all hoped had been consigned to the past” which had resurrected itself over Brexit.
He wrote: “Brexit has undeniably placed some pressure on British-Irish relations. Nevertheless, most British people I meet understand the rationale underlying the Irish Government approach to Brexit, a policy which enjoys cross-party support in our parliament and across public opinion in Ireland.”
The full text of the letter was released by the Irish Embassy in London after the Spectator’s omitted the final two sentences of it from its print edition. The letter was run in full on the Spectator website.
Responding to Mr O’Neill’s complaints, Mr Nelson said: “The Spectator loves Ireland - but critiquing the Varadkar government is hardly the same as criticism of Ireland. If the UK ambassador wrote to The Irish Times every time Fintan O’Toole went for Theresa May’s government, the postage bill would be considerable.”
Asked about the controversy on visit to Co Cork, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “To be honest, I don’t read The Spectator. I haven’t read those articles. But I do know Adrian O’Neill and he is an extremely professional ambassador.
“Part of his job in London is to ensure that Ireland and the Irish story is being reported accurately. If he made a judgement to write to The Spectator I doubt that he did that without having carefully considered it and knowing the facts.”