Thursday 19 October 2017

Varadkar brushes off attempts to burst the good-news bubble

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Skills Minister John Halligan with Pepper the Robot at the launch of four Science Foundation Ireland research centres. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Skills Minister John Halligan with Pepper the Robot at the launch of four Science Foundation Ireland research centres. Photo: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Independent Alliance junior minister were apparently thrilled with the reception they got at the Government's latest good news event.

"Welcome to the launch of Science Foundation Ireland's (SFI) new research centres," said a little robot named Pepper in a sing-song voice.

Leo Varadkar later took to Twitter and referred to the welcome as "Jetson-like". All that was missing was a flying car.

There was a reason why the Taoiseach, Frances Fitzgerald and John Halligan were pleased to be attending.

They had €74m in funding to invest in four new research centres relating to manufacturing, renewable fuels and neurological diseases.

SFI director Prof Mark Ferguson spoke of the power of science and how a man's lifespan in Ireland had doubled in the last 50 years.

If the same happened in the next 50 years, "we could all live happily and healthily to 150," he added, suggesting Mr Varadkar could be working as Taoiseach several decades from now.

"I'll probably have to because the pension age would be 150," Mr Varadkar quipped to laughs in the Dublin Castle event.

Mr Halligan spoke to the media, hailing the research at SFI centres.

Questions posed on the thorny issue of the latest Garda controversy on bogus breath tests was the only bursting of the good-news bubble. Mr Varadkar didn't speak to reporters at the SFI event, but the media was told he would be giving a press conference at Government Buildings later.

There's been a big emphasis on the Government's message since Mr Varadkar took over as Taoiseach, with plans for a new Strategic Communications Unit perhaps the best example.

The later press conference was good-news event number two of the day. He was joined by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to announce Ireland was making an early repayment of €5.5bn in the national debt. Mr Varadkar called the news "a very significant landmark" and Mr Donohoe said the early repayments would save €150m in interest payments.

The media tried to spoil the party with questions on the housing crisis, fears of budget overruns in the health service, and water charges for excessive use. As the press conference was ended by Mr Varadkar's press team, one reporter attempted to ask the Taoiseach why he still has confidence in the Garda Commissioner.

But if he heard the question as he headed back into his office, he didn't let on.

Irish Independent

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