In his first formal foray into Northern Irish politics, new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday met with DUP leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams at Government Buildings under the intense spotlight of how the shoot-from-the-lip politician would handle his first diplomatic task in power.
Officially, the meetings were taking place in a bid to kick-start the Stormont government talks crisis, which have stalled repeatedly throughout this year and must now either result in a new devolved government by June 29 or the return of direct rule from London.
But, with Ms Foster suddenly holding the balance of power in Westminster due to the Conservatives’ disastrous general election result, the linked opportunity to emphasise the need for a soft border was never far from view.
After two separate meetings with the sparring Northern Irish partners filled with whispered sweet nothings about how Mr Varadkar — a politician who until now has rarely shown any interest in the province — really does care after all, he and new Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney appeared to have made some progress on the most complex of Irish issues.
And while it would be wrong to suggest the comparatively positive response from the DUP and Sinn Féin means both parties left the talks by waltzing around the Merrion Street crossroads in a sudden de Valera-esque show of unity, they both agreed another date on the dancefloor — and in a power-sharing arrangement — is looming.
“It takes two to tango, and we’re ready to dance,” Ms Foster remarked when briefing journalists alongside DUP colleague Simon Hamilton after their meeting with Mr Varadkar.
“We’ve had a very useful and pleasant meeting. Certainly we want to see sustainable government [in Stormont],” she said.
Ms Foster was equally open to Mr Varadkar’s Government’s view on Brexit, coining a new phrase in the process by saying she wants to see a “sensible Brexit” instead of a soft or hard one in order to protect the interests of all citizens of the Republic and Northern Ireland.
And while she was more prickly in relation to criticism her party’s deal with the Conservatives may breach the Good Friday agreement — advising critics to instead “read the agreement” before commenting — in all there were re-assuring words from the DUP leader.
Speaking to reporters hours’ later, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, who was joined by deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald, the party’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill and MLA Michelle Gildernew, the opposition TD echoed the comments.
Not tangos this time but some pilates instead in homage to his recent admission that he shares an interest in the exercise technique with Mr Varadkar, Mr Adams joked — opening the door again to a new-found flexibility among the usually warring Northern parties.
“Well, perhaps we should set up a cross-border pilates body,” he said when asked about the need for Stormont talks to begin again, adding he believes the June 29 Stormont government deadline can be met.
First dance lesson crossed off the list with a degree of success — or at least no disasters — Mr Varadkar can now travel to London to meet British prime minister Theresa May next week with his hand significantly strengthened in Brexit and Northern Ireland negotiations.
Whether that meeting turns into another encouraging tango or an awkward two left feet stumble will be the next diplomatic test as the new Taoiseach tries to find his feet in the spotlight.