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Ireland's UK ambassador writes to magazine editor over article telling 'Little Leo' to join Commonwealth

Adrian O’Neill claimed the magazine had “lapsed into an anti-Irish sentiment”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

IRELAND’S AMBASSADOR TO the United Kingdom has hit out at a political magazine over a piece about Ireland’s decision to join an international French-speaking organisation.

In an open letter to the editor of the Spectator, Adrian O’Neill claimed the magazine had “lapsed into an anti-Irish sentiment” following the publication of the article this week.

The article by Daily Mail columnist Roger Hardiman questioned Ireland’s motivation for joining the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an international group representing countries and regions where French is spoken.

It claimed that Ireland’s interests would have been better served by re-joining the British Commonwealth, and listed examples of how the UK has assisted Ireland economically and diplomatically in recent years.

The article said Ireland’s organisations could “plug straight into” the Commonwealth and that young Irish people could win “hatfuls of medals” at the Commonwealth Games.

“Ireland… steadfastly turns its back on a perfect vehicle for its international ambitions for no other reason than that it was once run by the Brits,” Hardiman wrote.

“The last thing likely to lure it back on board will be overtures from Britain. But all the other nations are just as keen to see Ireland back in the club — and have said so often.”

In contrast, Hardiman said that Ireland was joining a group of “flimsily-connected” countries with “deplorable human rights records” and “French-speaking crooks”, some of whom appeared “at the bottom of every global corruption index”.

“Only a cynic would suggest that this is a calculated two fingers to Brexit Britain,” he continued.

“Only the mean-spirited would suggest that little Leo will do anything to suck up to the top gang in the EU playground…

“How odd, then, to see the Irish — usually so quick to take offence at any whiff of imperialism — acting as a cheerleader for French aggrandisement.”

In response, O’Neill penned a letter to the editor of the Spectator which acknowledged that Brexit had placed pressure on British-Irish relations.

However, he said that most people he had spoken to in the UK had understood the Irish Government’s approach to Britain’s departure from the European Union.

He also hit out at the piece by claiming it was one of a series of recent publications by the magazine about Ireland which did not fall under its aims to publish pieces to “inform, to entertain and to make people think”.

Letter to editor Irish Ambassador to the UK Adrian O'Neill's letter to the editor of the Spectator Source: Twitter

“I am not unduly thin-skinned but, over the last couple of years, the prevailing tone and tenor of most Spectator articles relating to Ireland have been snide and hostile,” he wrote, adding that Hardiman’s piece was an “egregious” example of this.

“While 17 EU Member States are either members or observers of this international organisation, only Ireland’s affiliation [with the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie] incurs this scorn.”

O’Neill concluded by saying that a recognition that anti-Irish sentiment had been confined to the past would likely be the reaction to Hardiman’s article, not a feeling of being informed, entertained, or encouraged to think.

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