Another fine mess on a foreign visit
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.