In a few weeks, Micheál Martin will hand over the role of Taoiseach to Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. While December 15 is the date given in the government program, it collides with a European Council summit. It has been speculated that Mr Martin will attend the summit and the changeover will come a few days later. There is a possibility that the Dáil will meet on December 17th to appoint Lord Varadkar as Taoiseach.
15 december was also the date on which discussions were held for a general election in northern ireland.
This is not to be expected at the moment, but what effects will the change at the top of Dublin’s government have on North-South relations?
Unionists have a positive working relationship with the Fianna Fáil leader and have said privately that he is a man to work with. The same cannot be said of his coalition partner, who negotiated the protocol with former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Mr Varadkar and Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney are seen by trade unionists as the architects of the protocol.
Liverpool University politics professor Jon Tonge said unionists had a “warm relationship” with the current Taoiseach and Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney had been “DUP bogeymen for some time”.
“Despite Fianna Fáil’s old-school Republican tradition, they see Micheál as a man they can do business with,” he added.
“He is not pushing the United Ireland agenda, he is not pushing the EU agenda, while Varadkar is perhaps less than Coveney seen as an EU scapegoat in the eyes of the DUP.
“It’s not just the DUP. I’ve heard UUP people criticize Coveney’s approach.
“While Micheál Martin was Taoiseach, Coveney could be reined in, but that will be less the case with Varadkar.”
Mr Coveney was the target of a loyalist threat earlier this year when he was forced to leave an event in Belfast after a van carrying a hoax bomb was left in the car park. The incident was attributed to the UVF.
The Loyalist Communities Council sent a letter to union leaders last week saying Irish government officials should not visit Northern Ireland while the protocol remains in place.
Mr Coveney yesterday in Belfast for talks with Foreign Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he would not be intimidated into visiting Northern Ireland: “A small number of hard thinkers making threatening statements will not deter us.”
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Vice-President Maros Sefcovic are expected to resume negotiations on changes to the protocol in the coming weeks. What role the new Taoiseach will play in these talks is unclear.
“Varadkar is very proud to have made the deal with Johnson and therefore sees himself as the midwife of the protocol,” said Prof Tonge.
“He will never trash a deal he claims authorship for or demand major changes to it. He has invested more than Martin, who was on the sidelines when the deal was closed.
“It will also be embarrassing in front of its EU counterparts as the deal continues to fall apart… and the UK government continues to seek to overrule it via the Protocol Act.
“Varadkar came to the EU with gifts and said ‘I have this deal’ and obviously the EU was more than happy. I think the Varadkar/Coveney leadership has more ownership of protocol than Martin. He is more cautious and, being a Fianna Fáil man, he has never advanced anything that would inevitably be seen as a push towards unification.”
While the EU has signaled its willingness to streamline Brexit trade deals, it remains to be seen if that will be enough for the DUP.
Prof Tonge said the key talks in the coming weeks will be between the EU and the UK rather than a deal being negotiated in the same way as the Protocol Agreement.
“It will be a Sunak/Sefcovic axis that will ultimately determine the outcome of these negotiations,” he added.
“The EU has the most trump cards because this treaty is enshrined in international law and the UK is trying to back away from its obligations. While the UK government will relent somewhat because it was a Johnson deal, it is recognized that frankly the Good Friday Agreement is in jeopardy because the DUP are not returning to the institutions.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/unionists-braced-for-return-of-bogeyman-leo-varadkar-ahead-of-key-eu-uk-talks-42115062.html Unionists braced for the return of ‘bogeyman’ Leo Varadkar ahead of key EU-Britain talks