Almost the right tone was struck by the Taoiseach during his timely away-day in Belfast. He became the first Government leader to visit the Orange Order’s headquarters, he met Ian Paisley’s widow, and, with some well-chosen words he recognised the validity of this island’s Protestant heritage. In an age when there is a desire in some political and academic circles to rewrite or scrub out the bits of history that are seen by some as toxic, this was the mark of a grown-up politician. Just as encouraging was the cordiality of the welcome he was given by the Orange Order’s leaders.
Looking back on his visit, however, Mr Varadkar might wish he’d answered questions about abortion in the North with a polite “no comment”. Having said, properly, that he was not in Belfast “to tell the people of Northern Ireland what they should or should not do”, he proceeded to get uncomfortably close to doing just that; his “personal” opinion is that access to abortion in the North should match rights available to citizens in Ireland and Britain.
It would be surprising if he didn’t have a personal view. His, in this case, is one we can assume would command a majority on both sides of the Irish Sea. But the Taoiseach knows that abortion is a matter devolved to elected politicians north of the border, where his personal opinions on abortion could all too easily be picked up and twisted by those who have no interest in the neighbourly inter-island relationship he seeks.