Leo Varadkar has made the radical move to present Dublin voters with the choice of electing in effect former SDLP leader, deputy First minister and Foyle MP Mark Durkan as MEP for Northern Ireland, based in Dublin but significantly, still living in Derry.
The bold move is, as Durkan himself admits , a ” bold ask” of Dublin voters and amounts to a modest alteration to the political balance on the island. However the big point is that it might give some practical form to the Irish government’s guarantor role under the GFA to uphold EU and Irish citizen rights in the North after Brexit. How that would work out in practice in Brussels and Strasbourg remains to be seen. What does London think? Were they consulted? They’re bound to have more than a passing interest if it’s to be more than a rhetorical flourish.
In terms of politics north and south it steals a march on Fianna Fail but leaves the SDLP in a mightily confused state over which horse to back in the south. If the party is split over its southern strategy, can it can it present a united front on the North? From Varadkar the most intriguing statement this morning was his advocacy of the Durkan candidacy “instead of a border poll.” This marks out Fine Gael’s territory against Sinn Fein and leaves Fianna Fail – pondering?
The Taoiseach has followed through on the public promise he made which was that Irish citizens in the North would not be left behind,” Mr Durkan said.
“I recognise this is a big ask of the people of Dublin. It is asking them to think about the extra seat that has come to Dublin.”
He acknowledged he may not be “on top of all the issues” that could be expected to concern TDs in the capital, such as transport infrastructure, and added he will continue to live in Northern Ireland but will maintain a Dublin office.
“I might wear a Fine Gael vest in this election but everyone will see an SDLP jersey underneath. I can’t hide that and it is to Fine Gael’s credit that they can respect that and accept those terms.”
At this point in time, as Brexit continues to present enormous challenges, we need a place to hear people like Mark Durkan and that place is in the European Parliament,” Mr Varadkar said.
“Instead of a border poll, I’m asking the people of Dublin to cast a more important vote, to vote on the 24th of May as if there was no border and to elect somebody who has served both parts of our island in the past and has much more to offer in the years ahead.
I don’t want the people of Northern Ireland, especially the hundreds of thousands of people who exercise their Irish citizenship and their European citizenship to have no representation in Europe. I don’t want them ever left behind again.”
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London