Why men of a certain age must really mind their manners, Leo
Published 11/11/2012 | 06:00
In an inadvertent parody of his multiple roles as Minister for Transport, tourism and sport, Leo Varadkar has booked what could become a one-way ticket to Loserville.
During the course of his ham-fisted attack on actor Gabriel Byrne -- wherein he attempted to discredit the Hollywood star by dismissing his fans as "women of a certain age" -- Varadkar managed to be ageist, sexist and a cultural snob in the same breath.
He also insulted the very demographic that's most likely to respond to his laudable efforts to encourage more homecoming visits to this country by the Irish Diaspora. Who better to observe the grandmother rule, after all, than grandmothers themselves?
Worst of all, however, Varadkar displayed remarkable ignorance about the extent to which the economic reform promised by his Government is being undermined by the grotesquely inflated pay and pensions of a small, self-serving elite -- the vast majority of whom are men of a certain age.
Ministers were alarmed by Byrne's attack on The Gathering, the programme of events which it is hoped will attract legions of overseas visitors next year. He described the venture as a "shakedown", and lamented our tendency to treat Irish-Americans in particular as blimpish cash cows whose only function is to be "milked".
Understandably fearful that The Gathering could become The Unravelling, Varadkar fought back. But rather than launch an impassioned defence of the project's merits, he resorted to sledging the messenger. Byrne's opinion was unimportant, the minister essentially argued, because he's a good-looking guy with a mature female following.
In truth, Varadkar's outburst revealed more about the blind spots in his own worldview than the flaws in Byrne's argument. There has always been something knuckleheaded about men who use the phrase "women of a certain age" as an insult. Getting older can be seen as a negative development only by someone who has not adequately considered the alternatives.
Byrne's popularity actually extends far beyond women of any age. His acting career has been marked by the avoidance of handsome-lead typecasting in favour of more challenging roles. Moreover, his highly regarded work as Cultural Ambassador to the US demonstrates the sincerity of his commitment to his native country.
Varadkar's gibe at fuddy-duddy oldsters makes no rational sense but it becomes especially ironic when one considers the fogeyish behaviour of his ministerial colleagues.
At 33, he is the youngest and, many believe, most ambitious member of a cabinet dominated by time-servers in their late 50s/early 60s, the majority of whom seem to be counting the days until they can bow out on their huge pensions.
If he's half as smart as he's cracked up to be, Varadkar must understand how the Government's refusal to tackle the problem of state-funded perks is a major obstacle to social solidarity. Against this backdrop, sneers about "women of a certain age" look like wilful ignorance. Before condemning the sloppy thinking of others, Varadkar should initiate a Gathering of his own thoughts.