Thursday 19 October 2017

The 'Tory Boy' whose ability to stay distance has seen him scale political mountain

Socially, Leo Varadkar is not naturally gregarious and sometimes his shyness can be perceived as aloofness. But he is capable of personal charm and is clearly working on his social skills and learning to be more gregarious.
Socially, Leo Varadkar is not naturally gregarious and sometimes his shyness can be perceived as aloofness. But he is capable of personal charm and is clearly working on his social skills and learning to be more gregarious.
John Downing

John Downing

From "young pup of the Dáil" to Taoiseach designate in just 10 years is not bad going. A medical doctor, Leo Varadkar is bright, and a good reader of the public mood. He engaged in Fine Gael politics since his student days and combined his activism with medical studies.

In a decade at Leinster House, he has toned down right-wing stances and attack-dog antics, to become more measured and astute.

But he disappointed as health minister, given his youth and background in the business. He "managed through" while succeeding mainly in cooling down public expectations on big promised reforms.

Socially, Mr Varadkar is not naturally gregarious and sometimes his shyness can be perceived as aloofness. But he is capable of personal charm and is clearly working on his social skills and learning to be more gregarious.

Mr Varadkar joined Fine Gael as a pupil at the fee-paying King's Hospital school. At Trinity College, where he briefly studied law before switching to medicine, he was active in Young Fine Gael and its European umbrella group the YEPP, the youth wing of the Christian Democrat group.

At Trinity he also met Lucinda Creighton, who is a year younger than him and who became a fellow "Young Fine Gaeler" and long-time friend. Yesterday, Ms Creighton was tweeting about a letter they jointly wrote urging changes to the method of electing the Fine Gael leader.

The young Varadkar was a prolific letter writer to newspapers on diverse topics, staking out a right-of-centre stance which saw him dubbed 'Tory Boy'.

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But once he got established in politics, he began moving to the political centre, notably refusing to back a cut to the minimum wage in recession-hit Ireland as enterprise spokesman in 2009.

His most notable move while health minister came just a fortnight after his switch there in August 2014.

In an Irish Independent interview he said that plans for universal health insurance by 2019 - a major stepping-stone to ending the infamous two-tier service - could not happen.

He appears comfortable in media situations and has frequently got away with candid replies which privately enraged government colleagues. As transport minister he broke ranks to praise two Garda whistleblowers as "distinguished" - a remark in stark contrast to former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan's description of their actions as "disgusting".

His ability to win colleagues' confidence is unmatched in recent times - and his campaign to win over the parliamentary party will be studied for years. By the second day of the campaign he had the bulk of the parliamentary party, accounting for 65pc of the weighted vote, on his side.

The son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse, he announced in January 2015 that he was gay, and helped deliver the successful same-sex marriage referendum months later.

But back in September 2007, the new Fine Gael TD for Dublin West incurred the wrath of three-time Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

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Mr Varadkar said Mr Ahern's claim of unexplained money "won on the horses" was the "defence of drug dealers and pimps".

He compared Mr Ahern's tarnished political legacy with blemishes on the reputation of Tony Blair over Iraq, and Bill Clinton's diminished standing over personal misconduct.

Mr Ahern hit back, saying he personally could take criticism from a new deputy "not a wet day in the place". But he would not allow a total novice to castigate his pals, Mr Blair and Mr Clinton.

"I'd say he'll get an early exit," Mr Ahern said of Mr Varadkar, in a rare assessment that the Drumcondra man got totally wrong.

Irish Independent

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