Leo's Health move can be stepping stone to top job
Published 12/07/2014 | 02:30
WE are looking at a future leader of Fine Gael, if not a future Taoiseach, if Enda Kenny's gamble on Leo Varadkar pays off.
It is hard to believe, in some respects, that Mr Varadkar – he so prominent in the failed 2010 heave against his party leader – has been appointed Health Minister.
Cliches of poisoned chalices and Angola aside, Mr Kenny would not gamble the ailing health of the Government on a sort of Machiavellian jaunt to set Mr Varadkar up for failure.
Mr Varadkar is one of the more mercurial characters to occupy Leinster House.
A doctor by profession, this young, immigrant son has displayed a canny flair for calling it – even if it upsets his elders.
In May 2011, Mr Varadkar suggested Ireland was "very unlikely" to resume borrowing
in 2012 and might need a second bailout.
The remarks caused tremors on international markets over Ireland's credibility.
They infuriated the Cabinet and even prompted European Central Bank President Jean- Claude Trichet to issue a reminder for the need for "verbal discipline".
Mr Varadkar's forthright nature has not always endeared. In March 2010, he was severely criticised after he compared then Taoiseach Brian Cowen with former Fine Gael leader Garret FitzGerald.
In a jibe that at best can be described as sardonic and at worst, sheer nasty, he told Mr Cowen that he was no Sean Lemass or Jack Lynch, but that he was like Dr Garret FitzGerald in that he had tripled the national debt and effectively destroyed the country.
He also suggested Mr Cowen should "enjoy writing boring articles in 'The Irish Times'" in a few years' time – another pop at Fitzgerald.
At other times, such as when he criticised the Irish tourism industry, his frank analysis has been welcome.
And it was Mr Varadkar's stand in defence of the garda whistleblowers earlier this year which helped turn the tide of public opinion against the State – and may have secured him his new ministry.
Mr Varadkar's intervention, at a Road Safety Authority conference, was the domino that collapsed the short-lived ministerial career of former Justice Minister Alan Shatter and the rather longer career enjoyed by former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
Opinions vary on whether Mr Varadkar's plain speaking-of-mind approach is calculated or just a facet of his strong, if complex, character.
The garda whistleblower stance was widely perceived as a tilt at future leadership, one aimed at diminishing the prospects of his cabinet colleague Simon Coveney.
But he may have just called it right. Mr Vardakar will need all his skills of instinct and judgment to navigate the shark territory that is Health.
But if the gamble pays off, there will be significant rewards for him, his party and his country.