Miriam Lord: Leo asked to explain his boy-lateral team

The official photo at Stormont didn’t look great, much to Joan Burton’s dismay

The team in Stormont, with Leo Varadkar and Theresa May in the centre. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye

The team in Stormont, with Leo Varadkar and Theresa May in the centre. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye


Leo must have misread the memo.

They were supposed to be “bilateral” talks in Stormont on Monday. But the Taoiseach, it seems, thought he was attending “boy-lateral” talks.

So he only brought the guys.

In this day and age, the official photo didn’t look great.

Theresa May, the British PM, sitting on one side of the table with her Downing Street team – men and women, and the Taoiseach with his government representatives – all male.

A lot of people noticed the gender imbalance in the picture. Could they not have rustled up one woman with a shred of competence from the flowing ranks of politics and the civil service?

Joan Burton was most annoyed when she saw the image and she told Leo so during Dáil questions.

He didn’t seem too put out.

Joan shouldn’t have been so irritated. The Taoiseach may have worn a large lapel badge into the Dáil to signal that he’s totes cool about women getting the vote a century ago, but that was, like, a week ago?

He has moved on. His wardrobe has moved on.

Perhaps, like last week’s suffragettes badge, pinning a woman on to Leo Varadkar’s delegation would have just been a token gesture.

Nonetheless, Joan felt she had to point out the rampant maleness of the negotiating team that accompanied him to Stormont, even though her substantive question was about whether the first phase Brexit withdrawal deal agreed in Europe is really as “bulletproof” as was made out at the time.

Bulletproof agreement

By the end of the Taoiseach’s replies on our bulletproof agreement, Opposition leaders were worried and unsure.

But back to Joan.

“First Taoiseach, on a historic note, you probably know that this is the year of Vótáil 100 in relation to women getting the vote and women being elected to parliament. I have to say there were lovely photographs of you and your British counterparts in all the papers today.”

Leo smiled.

“Particularly divine one in The Irish Times of six men on the Republic of Ireland side (as though nothing has changed since the British left) and three women and two men on the UK side.”

Divinely devoid of a female presence on the Irish side.

To be fair, maybe it was a very long table and the photo was cropped. Actually, one more member of Leo’s Republic of Ireland squad was just visible at the left hand margin.

Another man, unfortunately.

Joan fell to thinking that, given how his media communications unit costs so much money to work its voodoo magic, could we not “kinda ensure gender sensitivity when it comes to delegations?” Or was it simply a case of it being beyond the wit of the Irish side to have a couple of women at that meeting?

She was really exercised by this omission, not to mention surprised.

“As you arrange these photo ops so meticulously, what happened yesterday? I’d really like an explanation because it’s a historic meeting and just a disgrace that there are no women in that picture.”

Made a note

The Taoiseach, presumably, made a note, as he always does when the questions come at him in batches during this session. There were a lot of them on seemingly random issues, from Estonia to Brexit and Washington to digital tax.

The Fianna Fáil leader complained about this. It’s very hard to prepare questions properly when such a diverse range of topics are grouped together.

So Leo explained they were all connected by the word “bilateral”, as in the meetings he has had or will have with various world leaders.

Which is where Donald Trump came in. The Taoiseach is leading the usual expedition to the US for St Patrick’s Day, where it is expected he will meet Donald and do the St Patty’s experience. Although nothing about anything has been confirmed yet.

This was of particular interest to the leader of the Green Party, who remembered how Enda Kenny invited Trump to Ireland last year and how the then outspoken minister Varadkar wondered what purpose such a visit would serve. He wasn’t in favour of it.

But now that he is Taoiseach, he will continue the invitation.

What happens if Trump accepts and decides to visit? Should he be asked to address the Dáil, as many leaders have before him? How would we cope? What about the protests?

Eamon Ryan reminded Leo of the words of the speaker of the House of Commons who said, when asked about a possible visit to Westminster by the US president, “that it is not an automatic right but an earned honour?”

Given Trump’s track record, Eamon believes the Dáil “could not accept him with any honour”.

He asked the Taoiseach to confirm whether a trip to Leinster House is planned for Trump, should he decide to grace us with his presence.

“One never knows what he’s going to say. He might well get the bowl of shamrock and say to you: ‘I’m comin’ over, I can’t wait to meet you in Dáil Éireann. What do we do then, Taoiseach?” fretted the worried Green.

So many answers to deliver. So little time.

Leo talked at length about Estonia and tax and Brexit. He talked for so long that he never got around to the other things.

Other business

Time ran out. The Leas Cheann Comhairle attempted to move on to other business.

“Trump. Trump. Trump! We asked you about Trump!” shouted Richard Boyd Barrett.

The Leas Cheann Comhairle said his hands were tied.

“But there are still 36 seconds!” protested RBB.

Micheál Martin laughed. “The clock was run down well. He was never going to get to Trump.”

Leo griped about being “always involved in the cauldron of debates” but there just isn’t enough time to answer all the questions raised.

“You did it well,” conceded the Fianna Fáil leader.

“Trump! Trump!” bellowed Boyd Barrett.

Meanwhile, Joan Burton was fit to be tied.

The Taoiseach looked up and gave Richard his reply. There are no preparations or plans, he said swiftly.

Joan was on her feet, looking for her answer.

“What about women and the all-male delegation?” She looked around at her fellow TDs, throwing up her hands in frustration.

“He didn’t answer the question. Taoiseach! Taoiseach!” she shouted, trying to get his attention.

But Leo had turned away from the microphone, eyes down, gathering his papers.

He didn’t react and didn’t reply.

There are five women involved in the talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland executive. Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin, Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin, Arlene Foster of the DUP, Karen Bradley, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland and Theresa May, British prime minister.

And then there’s Leo, and his boy-laterals.

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