While the mood music from Brussels in recent weeks has been good, it is still too early to say whether Theresa May will get the EU to agree to a deal based on the Chequers proposals. Photograph:   Frank Augstein/Pool via Reuters

Stephen Collins: Both sides are reluctant to accept assurances without precise legal backing

Far from demonstrating the poverty of rural Ireland, the decline in the use of post offices in villages and small towns reflects the fact that so many people living in the countryside are affluent enough to travel to big urban centres or modern supermarkets on the outskirts of towns to do their shopping. File photograph:  Colin Keegan/Collins

Painting changes in lifestyle as rural neglect could lead to wrong policy decisions

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe launching  Ireland’s Corporate Tax Roadmap at Government Buildings yesterday. The brutal political reality facing Leo Varadkar is that once the budget is out of the way, he will continue in office for only as long as the Opposition decides. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Stephen Collins: Taoiseach knows he is vulnerable once the budget is passed

The response of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris to the eruption of the CervicalCheck controversy has been coloured by Michael Noonan’s fate during the Hepatitis C scandal.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Opportunistic politicians, the media and medical negligence solicitors putting scheme at risk

President Michael D Higgins acknowledges the crowd at Croke Park last weekend. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Stephen Collins: President must balance decorum of office against campaigning

Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Everything is at stake for FG and FF leaders as confidence-and-supply nears its end

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar knows how to remain calm when all about him are consumed by the heat of political battle. File photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Stephen Collins: Ireland needs to remain calm while preparing for the worst

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels last month. Photograph: Yves Herman/AP

Varadkar will face strong pressure if he has to compromise on border backstop

New Garda Commissioner Drew Harris: Maybe what Sinn Féin fears is that he knows too much about the IRA and its crimes. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Many who aspire to united Ireland raced to undermine new Garda Commissioner

Romanian president Klaus Iohannis:  One of the big stumbling blocks to tourism development is the poor infrastructure. Roads are like those in Ireland before EU money. Photograph: Jacek Turczyk

Romania needs EU investment to develop tourism and its natural resources

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall walk on Derrynane beach in Co Kerry during their visit to the  Republic. Photograph:  Niall Carson/Getty Images

Prince Charles’s visit comes as Brexit creates rift between Irish and British governments

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May: The crucial thing about her  agreement with Tory moderates this week is that a hard Brexit no longer appears to be a live option.  Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Squaring Border circle remains one of the most intractable elements of negotiations

 Britain’s prime minister Theresa May has managed to steer the UK on a trajectory that will keep it as close as possible to the EU in terms of trade and regulation while holding her party together. Photograph: EPA/Neil Hall

Prime minister could be playing waiting game comparable with Jack Lynch during arms crisis

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: While he was criticised by some Yes campaigners for not adopting a more aggressive approach, the end result proves he has his finger on the pulse of middle Ireland. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Abortion result strengthens Taoiseach’s hand before coming general election

Anti-abortion demonstrators outside Leinster House in 1983. Photograph: Peter Thursfield

The abortion issue has convulsed the country repeatedly since the 1983 referendum

  Minister for Transport Shane Ross: the Judicial Appointments Bill which lays down a new system for appointing judges is his brainchild and was included in the programme for government at his insistence. Photograph: Alan Betson

Alignment with SF on judicial appointments to placate Shane Ross threatens democracy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris: seeking re-establishment of an independent board to run the Health Service Executive. Abolished by James Reilly in  2011, it contained formidable experts.  Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

State healthcare decisions must be on basis of facts not political advantage or emotion

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath has questioned the basis of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe’s budget calculations. Photograph: Alan Betson

Politicians struggle to resist temptation of repeating past mistakes despite crash

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator: there is danger the tough line of support for Ireland could leave us badly off if the Brexit talks go wrong. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

Government’s EU-backed approach to date correct but not without risk of chaos

Decision time: whether or not the Taoiseach calls an election in a month’s time could define his entire political career. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Stephen Collins: Waiting for his opponents to pull the election trigger looks too risky

 French president Emmanuel Macron: In the era of Brexit and Trump, his election represented an alternative, much more benign vision of the future. Photograph: Patrick Seeger

Important that French president be backed as a bastion of decency and moderation

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (right) and Tánaiste Simon Coveney “have fuelled suspicion and paranoia in the North and the rest of the UK by raising . . . the question of a united Ireland”. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Davis wrong on Sinn Féin influence but Fine Gael must focus on pragmatic Brexit results

Former US president Bill Clinton called on Northern politicians to follow the example of their predecessors and make compromises to allow the power-sharing institutions to be restored. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Belfast Agreement 20 years on: Bill Clinton warns ‘paralysis’ cannot go on indefinitely without endangering agreement

  Bertie Ahern  and  Tony Blair after agreeing  the  peace deal for the North in  1998. Photograph:  PA

Former taoiseach says governments must work hard to bring North’s parties together

 The storms in March threw up  mounds of plastic bottles and other plastic debris  around Dublin Bay. Photograph:   Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Objections from drinks companies and supermarkets should not prevent reform

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: If he doesn’t trust his colleagues in the Dáil not to introduce an even more liberal abortion regime than they are currently committed to, why should the public trust them?

Politicians and journalists have managed to undermine people’s confidence in their integrity

“‘Ireland can count on us – and that isn’t based on any other conditions,’ German chancellor Angela Merkel said after meeting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and it would be hard to devise a more unambiguous message of support.” Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Trying to use Border to block progress on wider issues would have risked own goal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at a Belfast Agreement 20th-anniversary event held at the Library of Congress in Washington, on Wednesday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Taoiseach and Ministers have not taken enough account of how approach is perceived in North

President Michael D Higgins: refusal to acknowledge contribution of those who sought to achieve independence by peaceful, constitutional methods casts doubt on his ability to represent the different strands of Irishness commemorated in the Decade of Centenaries. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Refusal casts doubt on ability to represent different strands of Irishness

The destructive forces who promoted Brexit in the first place are digging in for a fight. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who lied his way through the referendum campaign, is at it again

There is now a better chance than a few months ago that advocates of a soft Brexit will prevail

Since Leo Varadkar took over as Taoiseach from Enda Kenny last May he has taken a more assertive nationalist line in public than his predecessor. And that line is clearly paying off with the public. Photograph: Alan Betson

Real surprise is how closely aligned Government has become with SF

Road sign in front of Parliament Buildings at Stormont: political parties must have a concept of the common good as well as their own self-interest. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Stephen Collins: State’s early years avoided tyranny but Sinn Féin stance may pose threat

‘The lopsided development of the country is down to the political cowardice of successive governments who have pandered to the notion of protecting rural Ireland.’ Photograph: Barry Cronin

Stephen Collins: National development plan must not be derailed by political cowardice

Phil Hogan: “Phase one of the talks was like the National League, but the Championship is just about to start. That will be the decider.” Photograph: Getty Images

EU agriculture commissioner says really tough Brexit negotiations have yet to come

Jacob Rees-Mogg: he  and his allies are piling on the pressure to ensure that no mutually acceptable deal between the UK and the EU can be concluded

Like the Ditchers of 100 years ago, right-wing Conservatives are prepared to put the UK’s interests at risk

Mary Lou McDonald: she will have to adopt a more subtle approach if she wants to fulfil her ambition of leading Sinn Féin into government in the Republic for the first time

If party can do deal with DUP it can realistically aspire to be in government in Republic

Leo Varadkar: In his handling of abortion he has shown a political subtlety that has enabled him to keep control of the agenda and avoid serious divisions in Fine Gael. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Taoiseach had clear idea from beginning where he wanted to go on abortion

 Peter Sutherland’s final public role was as adviser to the pope and the UN  general secretary promoting a generous and open approach to migrants.  Photograph: Magali Girardin/EPA

Most profound impact was role he played in creation today’s global economy

Fianna Fáil Rory O’Hanlon, Progressive Democrat TD Geraldine Kennedy and Paddy O’Hanlon, founding member of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, at an SDLP conference in Newcastle, Co Down, in  1987. Photograph: Jack McManus

‘It is important we press to have questions disallowed wherever possible,’ official advised

Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey waves to supporters outside Leinster House after his election as taoiseach in 1987. Photograph: Jack Mc Manus

State Papers 1987: Then taoiseach jokingly asked for loan of ‘£2bn or so’ from British PM

Economist and campaigner Raymond Crotty: his Supreme Court case to prevent the government signing the Single European Act led to the landmark decision that the treaty must be put to the Irish people by way of a referendum. Photographer: Jack McManus

Files reveal taoiseach spoke to French president the day after Supreme Court decision

Garret FitzGerald to Margaret Thatcher: “I very much hope our paths will cross again.” Photograph: Photocall

Garret FitzGerald and Charles Haughey both wrote warm letters to the British PM

 New minister for finance Ray MacSharry unveiling his budget on March 31st, 1987

Dukes puts the Fine Gael position on a more formal footing with the ‘Tallaght strategy’

British soldiers at a look-out post near Crossmaglen, south Armagh, in November 1987. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

State papers from 1987 reveal proposal to erect a physical border along the 500km frontier

Taoiseach Charles Haughey at 10 Downing Street, London, with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in 1980. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Transcript of 1987 meeting provides insight into how taoiseach dealt with prime minister

The  scene following the Enniskillen bomb blast in Co Fermanagh in November 1987  which claimed the lives of 11 people.  Photograph: PA

New books on John Hume a valuable counterweight to false republican narrative

Immediately after the leadership contest was called, a raft of senior Ministers came out backing Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Alan Betson

News review: Irish politics avoids election, but new taoiseach and tánaiste bed in

Protection of a frictionless border between the two parts of Ireland was accepted as one of the three key concerns of the EU that would have to be addressed in the first phase of Brexit talks. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA

News review of the year: conundrum of frictionless Border remains unresolved

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. “Varadkar will be playing with fire if he takes his newly-acquired nationalist credentials too far.” Photograph: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

Taoiseach risks overplaying political hand following tough stance on Brexit talks

  UK  prime minister Theresa May, home secretary Amber Rudd, Brexit minister David Davis and  foreign minister Boris Johnson:   The Irish border issue has dragged the Brexit  debate in a more sensible direction and away from the control of  hardline Tories. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Slowdown in growth and rise in inflation bring air of realism to British view of Brexit

The way Tánaiste Simon Coveney jumped the gun with a premature radio interview  and the subsequent mood music suggesting  the Irish side had got what it wanted, even before Theresa May met Jean Claude Juncker, was tempting fate. Photograph:  Laura Hutton/PA

Analysis: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney showed diplomatic inexperience

“An unexpected feature of the denouement in the Dáil on Tuesday was the expressions of mutual respect uttered by Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.” Photograph: Dáil/PA Wire

Varadkar-Martin relationship if anything better now than before Fitzgerald debacle

Kevin O’Higgins, who was deputy premier as well as minister for justice, was murdered on his way to Mass in Dublin in July 1927.

Assassination of minister for justice in July 1927 changed course of Irish politics

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney with Boris Johnson in Dublin: The visit of UK foreign secretary last Friday exposed the hollowness of the British claims that they want to avoid a hard Border. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The question is whether Border will be in middle of Irish Sea or across the island landmass

Noel Dorr: he argues that even though it failed to bring peace Sunningdale marked a turning point of great historical importance

Government had plan to transfer 20,000 civil servants to work under Council of Ireland

Union Jacks outside a pub in Chelsea, London, England. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Leo Varadkar’s wearing of the poppy shows the pluralist nature of modern Irishness

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un:  desire by Finian McGrath, Shane Ross and John Halligan to attempt intervention in the most dangerous crisis currently facing the planet is a mystery. Photograph:   AFP/KCNA via KNS/STR

A propaganda coup for murderous Pyongyang regime is no laughing matter

File image of Conor Cruise O’Brien. In the Labour Party his views on the North caused huge dissension, but with the support of Brendan Corish he swung the party behind his policies.

The intellectual challenged the idea the pursuit of unity was the State’s main goal

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and France’s president,  Emmanuel Macron, at a press conference at the Élysée Palace in Paris on Tuesday. Photograph: Kamil Zihnioglu/AP Photo

Confident Taoiseach engaged with EU debate on Brexit contrasts with shambolic British

The Dáil exchanges between Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over the past few weeks have, at times, bordered on the hostile. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Varadkar and Martin clearly dislike each other and their duel is likely to decide next election

Brexit: Theresa May signs the official letter invoking article 50, in March. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty

Stephen Collins: Was even modest expansion appropriate given the Brexit backdrop?

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe: has sensibly spelled out the constraints that will limit his capacity to dispense largesse next Tuesday. Photograph: Alan Betson

Mainstream politicians should embrace EU rules as a bulwark against disaster

Former taoiseach Liam Cosgrave: gave “great service to the State in extremely difficult times”, former taoiseach John Bruton said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tributes to former taoiseach note courage in defending State’s democratic institutions

WT  Cosgrave, former President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, and his son  Liam Cosgrave (right) at the Phoenix Park races in 1960

FG leader was an uncompromising and often controversial political figure

‘The one referendum for which there is a public requirement is on the issue of abortion.’ Photograph: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images

The votes have the potential to further undermine representative democracy

Micheál Martin: his  preference after the next election would probably be for a coalition involving Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and a number of Independents

Getting a Dáil foothold would be Sinn Féin’s first step to acquire total power in the State

‘Forty per cent of public transport users are now travelling free, according to a recent report conducted for the Department of Transport.’ Photograph: Frank Miller

Politicians may face a youth backlash if system’s unfairness is not addressed

John McNamee, dressed as a customs worker, during a demonstration by members of Border Communities against Brexit at Carrickarnon, Co Louth, earlier this year. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

We are deluded if we think the EU will not insist on post-Brexit checks on the island

Former taoiseach John Bruton: has commented on the irony that, 100 years on, it is the bulk of unionists who want to exit from the customs union and free trade area of the EU, regardless of the economic cost, while nationalist Ireland is almost unanimous in its desire to ensure free trade continues. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA

Debates around free trade and customs barriers as key 100 years ago as now

Chuck Kruger has written beautifully and broadcast frequently, mainly on RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany, about life on the Cape and much else besides.

Chuck Kruger will remain on the island for this year’s storytelling festival which runs from September 1st to the 3rd

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

There is nothing to be gained by adopting an aggressive stance with British government

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin  has consistently rejected the notion of dealing with Sinn Féin and has a clear distaste for the party. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Fianna Fáil eager to bury talk of Sinn Féin coalition before election campaign starts

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald with the Cabinet, in Áras an Uachtaráin. Irish commentators have often drawn comparisons between the eloquence of so many MPs and the plodding delivery of most of our TDs.

Our current Dáil is a paragon of common sense by comparison with the Commons

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. “While there have been some cringe-inducing moments, they haven’t damaged his standing and if anything probably enhanced his appeal to younger voters.” Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Taoiseach should use summer respite to steel himself for tough decisions ahead

“The notion that Ireland could somehow do a better deal if it was not tied to the EU 27 is laughable.” Photograph: iStock/Getty

State has vested interest in supporting EU negotiating stance on UK exit

Chief Justice Susan Denham. “For [Shane] Ross and Sinn Féin the whole point of the Bill is to give the Chief Justice and her colleagues [a] deliberate kick in the teeth. Photograph: Courts Collins

Ross is nearest thing we have to an Irish Donald Trump

Anti-abortion demonstration: Then senator Des Hanafin with anti-abortion demonstrators outside the Dáil yesterday. Photograph: Joe St Leger

Former FF senator to the forefront of abortion and divorce campaigns over decades

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with British prime minister Theresa May after talks at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Philip Toscano/Getty Images

Wobble on inherited appointment decision would have worsened bad situation

March 1990: West German chancellor Helmut Kohl, left, with  French president François Mitterand and the taoiseach, Charles Haughey,  at the EU summit in Dublin

Chancellor paid tribute in 1996 to Charles Haughey’s role in German unity process

Leo Varadkar after he was elected Taoiseach on Wednesday, at Leinster House.  Photograph: Collins Photos

It remains to be seen if the Taoiseach has the ability or temperament to achieve his goals

“One thing Leo Varadkar needs to beware of is pandering too much to the impatient younger TDs clamouring for promotion.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Cabinet choices will inevitably provoke resentment among those who fail to make cut

Leo Varadkar: the big question is whether he has the temperament and the stamina to step into the taoiseach’s role. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Decisive majority of Fine Gael TDs judged potential gain in seats was worth risk

Fine Gael leadership contender Leo Varadkar: “a superb media performer who speaks the kind of language the public understands”. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Stephen Collins: First test will be to avoid wasting recent gains on spending splurge

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney (left) and  Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar.  File photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Good chance of instability before new FG leader makes it to the Taoiseach’s office

Enda Kenny:  his  public image never reflected his success at home or abroad, and that proved fatal to his first government’s prospects of winning a second term

Along with achievements on world stage, Kenny has prove a successful leader at home

'What was so striking about the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election was that he campaigned unapologetically as an enthusiast for the EU.' Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Government must be open about the complications of membership as Brexit talks unfold

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a press conference following the special EU summit on Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

British government’s antagonism and delusion shows why our interests lie with the EU

Considerable credit must also go to the Taoiseach whose high standing with  European leaders proved pivotal in ensuring  Ireland was given almost everything it sought in the talks with our EU partners. Photograph: Getty Images

Taoiseach has ensured Irish concerns will be at centre of EU negotiators’ mandate

Senior EU official said respect in which Taoiseach Enda Kenny is held by the other European Council members has been decisive in influencing  Brexit goals.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Taoiseach to press for retention of EU benefits for Irish citizens in North at summit

Coveney and Varadkar emerge from water debacle with leadership aims enhanced

“An early election . . . would quickly become focused on whether the bulk of the Irish electorate wants to continue down the populist route or vote for parties who are serious about government.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Stephen Collins: Collapse of Government over water charges absurd but possibile

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams speaks at the funeral of  Martin McGuinness in Derry. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Stephen Collins: Coming weeks will show if party has shifted strategy on North

Enda Kenny: the Taoiseach deserved plaudits for the skilful way he stated important principles about immigration while remaining within the bounds of diplomatic courtesy. Photograph: Kholood Eid/Bloomberg

State’s media must avoid distorting lens that turns criticism to destructive cynicism

John Hume: spent his political life trying to convince everybody that territorial unity is not what matters but unity between people

By using Brexit to campaign for a united Ireland nationalism has repeated an old mistake

Former US president Barack Obama receives his bowl of shamrock from Taoiseach Enda Kenny  during a St Patrick’s Day reception  in 2012. Photograph: Chris Kleponis/Reuters

Taoiseach’s trip to US on St Patrick’s Day became most significant during peace process

Brexit effect: It will  be challenging  to find solutions to minimise the impact on trade between Ireland and Britain and to avoid disruption to the the peace process. Illustration: Getty

Improved Anglo-Irish relations belie danger of us being used as pawns in British exit talks

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: The party sponsored the introduction of water charges as part of the programme for government agreed with the Green Party. File photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Approach to water charges demonstrates they remain unfit for government

February 2016: posters of Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin hang side by side on a Molesworth Street lamp post, across from Leinster House. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Performance of Martin’s party surprised many but combined vote hit record low

Enda Kenny: Given that   Brexit  will take two years – and probably far longer – it would make sense for the Taoiseach  to sign off on the negotiating strategy before handing it on to his successor. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Party almost ‘tore itself apart’ much like the period before Kenny became leader

Leadership issue now dominating the thoughts of Fine Gael TDs. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fear of an election convinces many backbenchers that a new leader is needed

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