An­other fine mess on a for­eign visit

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT -

DIPLO­MACY is a del­i­cate game, and it is un­der­stand­able that lo­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ties must be con­sid­ered when a Taoiseach is on a for­eign trip.

That said, there is no ex­cuse for what hap­pened on Fri­day, when Mr Varadkar and the men in his en­tourage toured a tem­ple in Ethiopia while the women in the of­fi­cial party, in­clud­ing Ire­land’s am­bas­sador to the African na­tion, were left stand­ing out­side in swel­ter­ing 30-de­gree heat.

St Mary of Zion, an Ethiopian Or­tho­dox Church said to con­tain the orig­i­nal Ark of the Covenant that Chris­tians believe was made be­tween God and Moses, does not al­low women in­side be­cause they say they are ‘unclean’.

Ire­land has shown it­self in re­cent years to be a pro­gres­sive coun­try with equal rights for all. The sim­plest way to avoid this em­bar­rass­ing en­dorse­ment of un­ac­cept­able at­ti­tudes would have been to rule out the visit. Or at least, ac­quaint your­self with the lo­cal cus­tom, and ar­range an al­ter­na­tive event, per­haps on equal­ity, at which the am­bas­sador could speak from Ire­land’s po­si­tion of strength.

The am­bas­sador her­self, Sonja Hy­land, must ac­cept some blame, if she was in­volved in the plan­ning, but it points to Mr Varadkar’s naivety on for­eign trips. Who can for­get his claim, in Wash­ing­ton DC, that he stroked plan­ning per­mis­sion for Don­ald Trump’s Doon­beg re­sort, or the toe-curl­ing mo­ment in No.10 Down­ing Street when he re­ferred to a scene set there in the film Love Ac­tu­ally?

In 2017, he walked with his part­ner Dr Matt Bar­rett and Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Justin Trudeau in the Mon­treal Pride pa­rade, which cel­e­brates gay iden­tity. That was a sign of Ire­land’s com­mit­ment to the rights of all. In this case, the Taoiseach ought to have been more care­ful to avoid a very em­bar­rass­ing in­ci­dent.

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