John Downing: 'Town mouse Leo learns the pitfalls of going 'down country''

The protest was held outside Cork City Hall (Michelle Devane/PA)
The protest was held outside Cork City Hall (Michelle Devane/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

Like many parents, I did my stint reading bedtime stories, and a big favourite was 'Town Mouse and Country Mouse'.

It came to mind again this week as Leo Varadkar headed out of the Pale in part to dispel the myth that his Government is decidedly urban - if not suffering from chronic "Dublinitis".

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In the children's story, the proud town mouse goes to visit his country cousin but finds the non-urban life not entirely to his taste. He also finds that there are many perils among the seemingly harmless landscape.

So, the Taoiseach's visit to Waterford, Cork and Limerick was a mixed bag at best.

In fact, he may rethink how to take the Cabinet meetings outside of Dublin with less risk - if not entirely scrapping the whole idea.

Mr Varadkar's three-day foray to the south and mid-west was more than anything else about canvassing and unveiling some goodies for three important cities and their hinterlands.

It was the Taoiseach de facto kicking off his party's European Parliament and local council campaigns - his first electoral test since taking over the reins almost two years ago.

Some Fine Gael stalwarts may by now have a certain sinking feeling, making comparisons with Enda Kenny starting his ill-starred 2016 General Election campaign with a major flop.

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Well, things may not be all that bad - and sometimes events outside a politician's control just happen.

That could certainly be said of the Cork visit, where demonstrators just moved into space to push their own agendas.

The safer venue of City Hall was preferred over the more congested setting at Blackrock Castle for the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Maybe somebody even remembered the IFA boxing in all the EU farm ministers meeting back in 1996. Who knows?

At all events, fears of a farmer demonstration by the IFA's angry beef producers proved well-founded.

The farmers, as is their wont, made their presence felt and their president, Joe Healy, took the opportunity to deliver a personal message to the Taoiseach on behalf of his members, which had the added bonus of being televised.

Later, a public meeting about directly elected mayors for Cork, Waterford and Limerick was disrupted by people demonstrating against what they described as austerity.

It took some of the gloss off things - it was awkward but far from being in any way politically fatal. The bigger problem he had was of his own making, and occurred in Waterford on Tuesday, when he described as a "strange story" reports that four consultants at Waterford University Hospital had raised concerns about conditions at the hospital mortuary.

It seemed pointless going back on something which has been addressed by the provision of refrigerated units, and gave additional fuel to a controversy deemed resolved.

In Limerick yesterday, bar challenges about hospital overcrowding, and being obliged to sing along for a Cranberries number, things went well.

Irish Independent

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