New Irish Taoiseach Simon Harris caused some recent controversy with his comments that the younger generation in the Irish Republic is “more familiar” with other European cities than they are with Belfast or Derry.

This he claimed was a feature of his generation. But there’s a shocking middle-class, partitionist arrogance at the heart of that in my opinion. This sounds very much like a generation or subset of a generation that isn’t reflective of the whole island.

To begin with, aren’t Belfast and Derry modern European cities as well? Certainly, culturally and geographically they are. And might the plain people of those cities not feel just as European as the good folks of Dublin 4 or Greystones?

Or does Simon Harris think that just because the great Game of Thrones got filmed up around The Dark Hedges of the North, people live in a state of cultural winter up here? Do any ever venture beyond the great wall of ice that surrounds their land?

Actually, it’s not very hard to find the answer. All he’d have to do would be to stalk a few northerners on Facebook or Instagram. Just think this very week, Northern Ireland’s favourite weatherman Barra Best has been over filming a show in Spain.

And if it’s not bad enough that a northerner has escaped the icy kingdom, Barra’s a Westie as well (in the Belfast sense, not the Dublin crime gang.) And then there’s Conor Bradley, scourge of left-wingers the length of Europe. You’d think with Fine Gael’s historic associations with the right, they’d have heard of him.

But you don’t have to be Barra Best or Conor Bradley to be a northerner with a taste for the European lifestyle. We’re not living behind Soviet Russia’s Iron Curtain. There’s many the man of the North, and many the woman too, who have followed the Irish Rugby team or just followed the sunshine southwards to Europe.

But a Taoiseach for all the people should realise that the Europe of weekend breaks and games of rugger at Parc des Princes isn’t everyone’s reality. And it’s that Europe which he seems to be talking about – not the East End of London, the so-called ‘banlieue’ suburbs of Paris or the neglected bits of eastern Germany.

Simon Harris has a very skewed view of the world when many people in Dublin can barely afford rental costs these days never mind weekend jaunts across the North Sea to sip cocktails on the borders of Checkpoint Charlie.

The Taoiseach’s Europe is a place like Fine Gael’s Ireland. It’s one of social divides, inequities and a glossy surface, with very little substance beneath. That’s the very same sense of Europe that the people of Britain rejected, now quite foolishly.

It’s a Europe of haves and have-nots, a kind of club where you’re cool if you belong to it and if you don’t, well you don’t really matter. That’s the vision of Europe that if presented in an Irish Leave/Remain referendum would get as much of a hammering as Leo’s last one.

Northern parties on the other hand have presented a much more positive vision of Europe, on the whole.

Sinn Féin, for example, always seem to have shown a certain degree of scepticism for the more capitalistic excesses of the European Union.

The Alliance though are the ones who really found momentum in selling a sense of Europe as a force for unity between people on these islands. Although having a leader of the calibre of Naomi Long has definitely helped them, they really propelled themselves into the public imagination through opposition to leaving the EU.

Of course, the SDLP have also been doing that for years. But their fortunes have nosedived whilst the Alliance Party has gathered momentum with every election. And that’s because their vision of a shared society resonates with people right now.

They’ve come far from the days when I was a student and were treated with some derision by those in the nationalist and republican communities. One of the harshest accusations in the days of old was that Alliance supporters were ‘Jaffa Cakes'. 

The insinuation here was that they were sweet on the outside but when it came down to it, they were orange in the middle. A sweet kind of orange though, not the bitter brand associated with the politics of the DUP, for example.

Added to that, a left-wing friend of mine used to nickname John Alderdice, Alliance leader of that time, as ‘Lord Balderdash'. That was because of being seen to sit on the fence and offer nothing beyond the simple notion of living together in peace.

With time passing, both the now Baron Alderdice and the Alliance Party have certainly reinvented themselves, much like Sinn Féin’s reinvention. And again, through the EU Referendum, I got to hear John Alderdice put forward a very passionate case for remaining in Europe every time he spoke.

He is a very articulate man who is certainly not any kind of ‘Lord Balderdash'. 

Recently too I have heard him discussing the issue of a United Ireland. At one event, if my memory serves me right, he spoke alongside Michelle Gildernew.

Those were intelligent discussions characterised by a recognition that we all have different traditions and different economic circumstances. They weren’t the kind of sycophantic nonsense voiced at the recent British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.

These islands need a vision for the future, not lazy stereotypes. And the Europe or the generation of Irish youth imagined by Simon Harris isn’t a recognisable one.

Unlike 20 years ago, very few now have money to know and travel the continent.

The thing that Europe has to offer Ireland, North and South, is neither the neoliberal economics of the present-day European Union nor a place of glitzy weekend breaks.

Rather, being European should be a unifying force.

The ‘banlieue’ suburbs of Paris and their equivalence in Brussels or Ballymun are just as vital a part of Europe as the priciest boxes of Parc des Princes or the Aviva Stadium on the night of the forthcoming Europa League Final.

I don’t think, as some have suggested, this faux pas will end up becoming a Liz Truss moment for Simon Harris but his tenure as leader could be short.

I’ve got a feeling that the parties behind that wall of ice up in the North might yet play a greater part in history than the current Taoiseach, especially Sinn Féin and Alliance.

And that’s probably a story for another day.