Sunday 19 January 2020

Philip Ryan: 'Varadkar can be his own worst enemy and his greatest asset'


Baby blues: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar holding eight-month-old Ella Truell alongside Business Minister Heather Humphreys during the launch of the Fine Gael General Election campaign in Co Monaghan yesterday. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Baby blues: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar holding eight-month-old Ella Truell alongside Business Minister Heather Humphreys during the launch of the Fine Gael General Election campaign in Co Monaghan yesterday. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
'Varadkar’s greatest strength has become his Achilles’ heel' Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Micheál Martin's reaction really said it all when he was asked about Leo Varadkar's comments on the homeless man who suffered horrific injuries when the tent he was sleeping in was removed by an industrial vehicle cleaning the area around the Grand Canal in Dublin.

Mr Martin was equal parts bemused and shocked by the Taoiseach's attempt to use the incident for political gain during the election campaign.

He said it was "extraordinary" that the Taoiseach would ask that Fianna Fáil's Lord Major of Dublin, Paul McAuliffe, make a comment on the incident which left the homeless man with life-changing injuries. "That's not how I do politics," Mr Martin said.

At Fine Gael's campaign launch in Monaghan, Mr Varadkar also noted that the injured man had previously been offered accommodation by homelessness services.

It's as if he can't help himself. No matter what he's questioned on he automatically jumps to the defence. Political charges generally follow and empathy is an afterthought. It was same last weekend when he was questioned on RTÉ Radio One's 'This Week' about a five-year-old homeless boy and elderly homeless woman. He almost suggested there was a conspiracy behind the two cases.

Varadkar fails to see these hard cases are real life human examples of a homelessness epidemic which has spread across the country under his watch. The exact details don't matter and the exact ages certainly don't matter. What matters is that there are people suffering.

Varadkar's greatest strength has become his Achilles' heel. Varadkar won public acclaim as the free-thinking minister who wasn't afraid to take on his colleagues.

But since becoming Taoiseach everything he does is amplified. Every comment and move scrutinised. Varadkar knows this but has never truly adapted his approach to the responsibilities of his office.

'Varadkar’s greatest strength has become his Achilles’ heel' Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
'Varadkar’s greatest strength has become his Achilles’ heel' Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

This election campaign more than most will be fought on the airwaves. The cameras will be focused on Varadkar every day and even his most innocuous remarks will be analysed for hints about the man voters are being asked to reappoint to the most powerful office in the country.

The live televised debates could make or break the campaign for Varadkar or Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

But there won't be the same amount of concern in Fianna Fáil about Martin as there will be in Fine Gael about Varadkar ahead of the debates. One slip of the tongue or distasteful comment could swing the election for either side and Varadkar is the most likely to fall victim to such a misstep.

It's not that long ago he compared Martin to a "priest engaging in sin".

And don't forget about the time he suggested he helped Donald Trump with a planning issue near his golf resort in Clare.

Fine Gael party officials will be on the edge of their seats on the nights of those debates.

Irish Independent

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