Sunday 4 December 2016

Peace treaty brokered between Varadkar and Healy-Rae after mobile phone row

Published 31/03/2016 | 02:30

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tony Gavin

Leo Varadkar is an expert in handling criticism. Since his appointment as Health Minister, the Dublin West TD has been accused of virtually everything - from 'leaking' his own emails to adopting a 'hands-off' approach to the running of the health service.

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But even Mr Varadkar was taken aback when he faced the type of charge more suitable to the environs of a primary school classroom than from inside the talks aimed at government formation.

According to Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, one of the 17 visitors to Government Buildings this week, Mr Varadkar was displaying a complete lack of interest in the progress of the talks and had spent a considerable amount of time texting on his mobile phone.

The view had crystallised several minutes earlier when, during a tea break, other deputies suggested the minister appeared somewhat disengaged from proceedings. A decision to confront the issue head on was quickly taken.

So, in typical Healy-Rae fashion, the outspoken deputy decided not to hold back and tackled Mr Varadkar over his behaviour during a discussion on mental health.

Healy-Rae made his feelings known through language people in the Kingdom are well accustomed to.

Silence quickly filled the room.

But looking up from his notes, Mr Varadkar dismissed the charge entirely - instead citing examples in which Mr Healy-Rae was seen communicating on his phone.

Yesterday morning, a peace offering was made.

The instigator is unknown but sources have suggested that it was Enda Kenny himself.

The exchange between the pair was one of many examples of the strained relations encountered across three days of talks that have lasted the guts of 24 hours.

But that of course is expected when two politicians from such contrasting backgrounds are brought together to agree common goals.

From Mr Varadkar's perspective, he has this week been forced to defend the Government's record on health in a room full of Independent TDs who have never sat at the Cabinet table.

He has done so too in the full knowledge that he may never again be handed the keys to the most unpopular government department in the State.

Perhaps Mr Healy-Rae was wrong in his decision to come down hard on Mr Varadkar on this occasion.

But from his perspective, and that of many Independents, their pleas for action on health has, for the most part, fallen on deaf ears over the past five years.

On this occasion at least, Mr Healy-Rae wanted to be listened to, and not just heard.

Irish Independent

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