Wednesday 16 August 2017

Leo toned for office as pilates revelation with Adams raises eyebrows in the Dáil

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar waves to TDs and well wishers at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Getty
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar waves to TDs and well wishers at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Getty
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

It was a day to remember forever. A day of firsts, of revelations and unveilings as proud mammies watched from the gallery.

A day of political upheaval and of knives being gently delved between shoulder blades and the honouring of stealthy pledges. But above all, it was the day we entered the 21st century. And Gerry Adams was entirely to blame for that.

His explosive political revelations the lion had indeed laid down with the lamb - in sweat-wicking lycra no less - saw Dáil Eireann dragged kicking and screaming into the new era.

Yes, the longstanding poster boy of Irish republicanism and the newer poster boy of Irish blueshirtism had a terrible secret that would make the British Tories' dirty deal with the DUP look like amateur hour.

"I do not know him well though he and I once attended the same pilates class," Gerry mused, casually dropping this bomb into the discourse.

Jaws dropped - and then they all roared in disbelief.

Dr Matt Barrett, partner of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar alongside the Taoiseach’s father Ashok, mother Miriam, Sabina Higgins and his sister Sonia and other family members as he receives his seal of office in the State Reception Room of Áras An Uachtaráin by President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Dr Matt Barrett, partner of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar alongside the Taoiseach’s father Ashok, mother Miriam, Sabina Higgins and his sister Sonia and other family members as he receives his seal of office in the State Reception Room of Áras An Uachtaráin by President Michael D Higgins. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Leo had the grace to look sheepish.

"We couldn't get the former Taoiseach to stretch as far as that," Mr Adams slyly added, quite aware of what he had done in setting the cat amongst the pigeons.

Lips quivered amongst the more conservative backbenchers who never thought they would see the day. It was bad enough that Enda had shown them all up by climbing mountains and cycling his bicycle.

Now they had this new disturbing vision that once seen could not be unseen. Might they even be forced to visit the Dáil gym themselves?

The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The new cabinet at Áras an Uachtaráin. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Perhaps Leo and Gerry had got so far as to 'climb the tree' - a very complicated Pilates move where you wrap your hands around your ankles and inch them slowly upwards as you simultaneously bend your spine backwards until your head is touching the floor.

It's really quite unpleasant.

Very good for toning though.

What had they discussed at this point, we marvelled?

Political differences, the healing of the rift between the South and our neglected cousins in the North, whither the peace process?

The answer, of course, is nothing at all because it's not possible to form a single coherent thought in Pilates class.

You're far too busy idly wondering if this is what being waterboarded feels like on the inside and if it's possible the clock on the wall is actually slow.

"I'd like to thank Deputy Adams for revealing our little secret," said Leo later.

"I think he was much better at it than I was...I think, perhaps, it's his experience of a tight squeeze" he slyly added, with a Pilates-honed deftness of his own, as Mary Lou patted Gerry fondly on the elbow.

Up in the distinguished visitor's gallery, Leo's parents Miriam and Ashok were enjoying the banter enormously.

Beside them sat their daughter Sonia with her two young children. It was a long day for them - but they stuck it through well into the night. Not for anything would they miss uncle Leo's big day.

Even Mick Wallace had dressed up for this occasion - his t-shirt had sleeves.

Leo's partner Dr Matt Barrett had taken a seat behind the Varadkars with his own parents.

This was very much a family affair.

Four hours later, Matt smiled in pride as Leo strode starrily across the Dáil chamber with his Cabinet trailing happily behind him.

In the way that funny coincidences go, it was 10 years to the day since he had first been elected.

He thanked Enda for all he had done for him.

"His leadership also enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country only two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office, an aspiration which I once thought was beyond my reach, at least, if I chose to be myself."

It was a moving moment. It was indeed an evolution in society that saw him stand before us.

But Leo has also evolved since then, he hastened to tell us in his morning speech.

"So much has changed in that decade, and I have grown, evolved and changed in that time as well," he said.

"But, I am still motivated by the same ideals which drove me to enter politics in the first place and I know drive many of the people in this House as well.

"For some, politics is a bad word. But we have also seen in other countries, and sometimes in this one, that politics can also be a way of inspiring people to believe in something bigger.

"It can be a way to convince people that change is possible."

It would not have been a Fine Gael coronation if Michael Collins had not been involved.

And Leo had a quote in the bag.

Collins had believed that with the right political, economic and social system in place, Ireland could "become a shining light unto the world". A century later, that dream lives on in all of us in this chamber, in all parties and none, he said.

And with an eye to those who consider him right wing, Leo strove to reassure us that his Government would not be 'left' or 'right' but "European centre".

It was a speech that ticked all the boxes.

It took time for everyone to have their say and then Leo was off to the Aras.

But before then, a very movie star departure, as hoards stood to see him off.

He posed for selfies, he shook hands, he chatted for so long that we thought he would never leave.

A good start for someone who admits he is "not a people person".

The real drama was in observing the deputies going up the stairs towards Leo's office and Michael Ring bounded up the steps beaming from ear to ear with cheers of "Yoho Ringer," and "Mayo for Sam," in his ears.

Most against house protocol. Next thing they'll be doing pilates in the lobby.

Irish Independent

Also in this section