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ANALYSIS: Varadkar's statement on marriage equality wasn't controversial – it was fair comment

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Pride breakfast meeting in Belfast on Saturday. Picture by Peter Morrison/PA Wire

THE DUP's reaction to Leo Varadkar's visit north has been eerily subdued. Arlene Foster's party didn't quite throw flowers at the taoiseach but neither did they target him with snowballs or the kind of puerile insults to which Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell are so often prone.

It would be naive to think the Fine Gael leader's decision to come north on the weekend Pride took place in Belfast was just coincidence.

The taoiseach has made no secret of his desire to advance equality and he clearly saw an opportunity to support the LGBT cause in a region where same sex marriage remains unlawful but we can assume he understands the limits of his influence when he crosses the border.

At a breakfast event in Belfast on Saturday, Mr Varadkar voiced his belief that it was "only a matter of time" before marriage equality would be introduced north of the border.

It's an ostensibly controversial statement given how taoisigh have traditionally been regarded by socially conservative unionists in the north. However, Mr Vardakar did not 'call for' or 'urge' anybody to introduce same sex marriage, he simply made an observation – and what many might regard as an accurate assessment.

Similar sentiments have been expressed in these pages in recent days by columnist Newton Emerson and University of Liverpool academic Jon Tonge, who has written extensively on the DUP.

Professor Tonge believes Mrs Foster's party will quietly acknowledge that marriage equality is inevitable and while the DUP will not change its policy, neither will it oppose or agitate against the necessary legislation. The author of 'The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power' characterises this approach as "passive acquiescence", a strategy that enables the party to keep its older supporters on board while not alienating younger, more enlightened voters.

The DUP – in common with Alliance – will ensure churches are not forced to carry out marriage ceremonies for same sex couples but beyond that they will quietly accept that times have changed.

So rather than stirring things up and interfering in Northern Ireland's internal affairs, perhaps Leo Varadkar's remarks will be deemed nothing more than fair comment?

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