NO SOONER had Tánaiste Micheál Martin departed on a week-long trip to South Africa and Mozambique that he hoped would further burnish his reputation as a great European statesman, than Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a daring – and unannounced – dash to war-torn Kyiv to meet Volodymyr Zelenskyy. No prizes for guessing which leader made the main headlines.
Leo’s gazumping of Micheál comes at a delicate time. Both men have lost popularity with their respective party membership, and are frantically but furtively fumbling for the ejector seat button in advance of the next general election. A number of cushy EU and international jobs are certain to arise between now and the last possible date for the election (March 2025), but neither man would currently be certainties for any position – despite the flattering noises from certain quarters – hence the need to rack up the air miles and the photo opportunities.
Down in the southern hemisphere, Martin met South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, and did 67 minutes’ community service in a local centre, one minute for every year that Nelson Mandela spent working for social justice.
Meanwhile, Varadkar travelled to Ukraine; visited the sites of several atrocities committed in the early weeks of the Russian invasion; encountered some Ukrainian theatre artists; met Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal to discuss rebuilding the country; and was warmly greeted by President Zelenskyy.
And while the Ukrainians released a video showing an Irish delegation of at least seven people – including Ireland’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Therese Healy and various members of the Taoiseach’s staff – the GIS issued six photographs, all showing only the two great men, Leo in his suit and tie and Zelenskyy in his military-khaki t-shirt.
None of this careful staging appears to have impressed Stephen Collins, who insisted in his Irish Times column at the weekend that the question of whether Micheál Martin will stay or “go to Europe… will have a vital bearing… on the fate of the country in the decade ahead”.
With his fervent admiration for Martin evident throughout the piece, Collins suggests the FF leader is “entitled” to become Ireland’s next EU Commissioner “if he wants it”, but speculates that he may instead land the job of President of the European Council.
Collins firmly rules Varadkar out for this role for “balance” – he is certain that Leo’s EPP colleague Ursula von der Leyen will be reappointed as European Commission president. In fact, at least some of her German colleagues are quite anxious to move her along, suggesting she should become the first ever female Secretary General of NATO when Jens Stoltenberg leaves next autumn.
Collins’s fellow Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole was last weekend far less admiring of Micheál’s statesmanship. Pointing out (as Goldhawk had done the previous week) that Martin had himself helped to broker the international convention against cluster munitions back in 2008, Tintin opined that it was “galling to see his initial reaction to the US decision [to supply cluster bombs to Ukraine] – a general condemnation of the use of cluster weapons that did not manage to mention either Ukraine or the Biden administration.”