Threat of economic nationalism at home should not be discounted - Varadkar

Tánaiste tells diplomats he worries about trajectory Ireland may yet follow

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has warned of the dangers of the potential rise of economic nationalism at home, telling a summit of Irish diplomats that the threat should not be taken for granted.

Mr Varadkar told the Global Ireland Summit, hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Ireland had become a more socially liberally and internationalist in outlook over the last 20 to 30 years but that it was also "often 20 or 30 years behind" the US, the UK and western Europe.

“I often worry sometimes that maybe there is a certain trajectory we are yet to follow. There might be a backlash against individual liberty, against international trade agreements,” he said.

He told the gathering at Dublin Castle that it had become harder to negotiate international trade deals, even though the Irish people believed in being part of “a global world”.

“We have to be wise to the fact that everyone doesn’t necessarily think that way and there are dangers at home as well as abroad,” he said in a question-and-answer session at the event.

The Fine Gael leader was speaking at the summit held as part of the Government's Global Ireland strategy that aims to extend Ireland's influence internationally by developing diplomatic and trade links with a doubling of the State's representative outposts around the world.

Mr Varadkar said that, following Brexit and the election of an economic nationalist in Donald Trump in the United States, similar events could happen in Ireland or other EU countries.

"Is it inconceivable that you could have a president of France that is an economic nationalist? It is not. We should never think that we can take these things for granted because we can't," he said.

The Tánaiste launched a new trade strategy this week to protect jobs and grow investment that includes plans to set up an expert group to identify threats to global supply chains.

The group will also example risks such as the rise of economic nationalism.

He told the conference in his speech that while the war in Ukraine is "first and foremost a humanitarian crisis", the economic consequences of the war will be felt across the global disrupting the world's economy, global supply chains, and trade and investment.

Mr Varadkar said the opening of Ireland’s embassy in Kyiv last year - one of the diplomatic missions opened under the Global Ireland initiative - helped Irish people in Ukraine fleeing Russia’s invasion and Irish families having babies through surrogate mothers in Ukraine.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without people on the ground there,” he said.

In his address to the conference, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Russia’s invasion in Ukraine represented “a time of great unpredictability” and was “one of those moments when the distinction between domestic policy and foreign policy evaporates before our eyes.”

Mr Martin told the diplomatic gathering that Russia’s “hard power” was “doing its damnedest to cast aside multilateral institutions and international law”.

"We need to double our efforts to ensure that hard power for hard power's sake does not win. Russia must not benefit from this conflict," he said.

In follow-up questions, the Taoiseach said he supported Ukraine's application to join the European Union, which raised a "broader issue" of how to deal with "the European perspective" of many other eastern European countries in "the European Union neighbourhood".

“Whilst everything may not be perfect in countries or prospective members, the balance has to be struck that coming into the European Union is a great protection and security for those countries against the kind of aggression we now witness in the Ukraine,” he said.

Mr Martin said there was “little point laterally complaining about Russia manipulating various countries in the neighbourhood of the European Union if we are not proactive enough in helping those with a European perspective coming into Europe.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent

READ MORE