Northern Ireland news

ANALYSIS: Taoiseach's visit shows how a city renowned for division can celebrate diversity

Leo Varadkar meets the public outside the Museum of Orange Heritage. Picture by Hugh Russell
Guest Newsdesk

A theme of Leo Varadkar's visit to Belfast yesterday was the "complexity" of identity and traditions across Ireland.

Too often under the guise of balance, the north is portrayed as a binary society with little nuance or moderate thinking.

But by coming to Belfast to meet Orangemen from the Republic who spoke in Irish before travelling to west Belfast to launch a nationalist festival whose headlining acts are often English bands and comedians, the taoiseach demonstrated that people's cultural affinity isn't always straightforward.

Concluding his trip with a visit to Belfast's 'gay quarter' – which on weekend nights attracts a large heterosexual contingent – highlighted how many in a city renowned for division are happy to celebrate diversity.

Arguably nothing better illustrated both the complexity of identity and changing attitudes than the scenes that greeted Ireland's first openly gay premier in east and west Belfast.

Not too far from where his predecessor Jack Lynch was pelted with snowballs during what was then a trailblazing trip north in the late 1960s, Mr Varadkar was greeted on the Cregagh ­Road – albeit the posher end – with smiles and handshakes.

There was an equally warm welcome inside St Mary's University College on the Falls Road as the Fine Gael leader arrived to launch Féile an Phobail.

The only note of dissent was outside the gates where anti-abortion protesters made their unfavourable opinion of the Fine Gael leader known.

The predominantly Catholic protesters cast him as the taoiseach who is making abortion widely available south of the border, while prompting a divisive debate in the north about what was once one of the few unifying issues among the region's mainstream political parties.

Thankfully for Mr Varadkar, the balmy weather wasn't conducive to snowballs.

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