— PERHAPS KEEN TO head off any criticism, Leo Varadkar offered his own commentary on his decision to milk the ‘Justin Trudeau Likes Novelty Socks’ meme, as he ended his press conference with the Canadian leader earlier today.
The new Taoiseach chose to gift a pair of distinctive socks to his guest, and sport his own Canada-themed pair.
Varadkar can be assured of a raft of international headlines, as a result.
He’ll no doubt be hoping that some of those pieces make mention of more serious issues – like Brexit. But, either way, he’ll be more than happy to be associated with Trudeau, who has become something of an international political celebrity and a centrist counterpoint to his neighbour, Donald Trump, in recent months.
Varadkar sought to align himself with the likes of Trudeau and France’s Emmanuel Macron as he ran for the leadership of Fine Gael earlier this summer – and pronounced, upon his election as Taoiseach last month, that he would lead a government neither of left or right “but of the new European centre”.
In the wake of all that, the timing of this week’s visit – the first by a foreign leader, since Varadkar took office – will be particularly welcomed by both the Taoiseach and his advisors.
No surprise then that the government made sure to pull out all the stops to make sure Trudeau and his family got a proper Irish welcome (and multiple opportunities to face the cameras, alongside his host).
Canadian Ambassador Kevin Vickers was amongst the welcoming party last night as Trudeau touched down at Dublin Airport with his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their young son Hadrien.
A busy schedule of carefully-choreographed events was arranged for today.
Members of the media who wanted to photograph or film the leaders’ early morning meet-and-greet at Farmleigh, in the Phoenix Park, were asked to present themselves to board a bus from the city before 7am.
This, of course, being far too early for TheJournal.ie, we boarded a later one, to catch the mid-morning press conference.
Elephant in the room?
Trudeau is stopping off in Ireland on his way to the G20 summit in Germany later in the week – where he’ll meet face-to-face yet again with Donald Trump.
The US President wasn’t mentioned by name by either of two leaders today – but both appeared keen to underscore their differences with him, as they spoke to reporters, by talking up their inclusive worldviews.
They espoused the benefits of migration, for instance, and how countries do best when they are open to the world – again, in contrast to Trump. (The expression ‘elephant in the room’, often used in these scenarios, is perhaps less than fitting here: the press conference was held outdoors, for starters – and, this being the Phoenix Park, there were actual elephants in the vicinity, if not within view).
There was discussion of the close links between the two countries, at their early morning meeting, they said – making the obligatory kind of opening remarks you expect at this sort of thing.
Managing to allude to Brexit and Trump, but without specifically mentioning either, Varadkar observed at the start of their Q&A that Ireland and Canada both share relationships with neighbouring countries which have “decided to go a different direction”.
Trudeau gave answers to most questions in both French and English – joking, at one point, that it gave him two chances to get the answer wrong.
By contrast Varadkar – who, in fairness, has admitted he’s still working on his Irish language skills – stuck to a prepared script to answer his sole question As Gaeilge.
The Taoiseach looked far more relaxed handing over his gifts to his VIP guest, as the press conference ended.
And though the assembled press may have thought we’d reached peak ‘Irish welcome’ with the presentation of the green socks and rugby jersey, there was more to come still.
Around the back of the building, some guests from the GAA were waiting to school the Canadian premier in the finer points of hurling. As they chatted someone emerged onto the grass with a pair of embossed bodhráns, which the two men duly brandished.
Trudeau, as planned, stopped by to meet President Higgins and sign the Áras guestbook this afternoon. He’ll join the Taoiseach again, alongside other guests, for a dinner later tonight.
Meanwhile, Varadkar has been back to the grind of the Dáil for his latest outing in Leaders’ Questions, where Mary Lou McDonald took the opportunity to give out to him for his international showboating.
Hard-pressed families, the Sinn Féin TD insisted, “have no interest in your choice of socks”.
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