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Vote trail: Leo hopes to come up smelling of roses after a bruising campaign



‘A little forlorn’: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with ministers Heather Humphreys, and Paschal Donohoe at IT Carlow yesterday. Photo: PA

‘A little forlorn’: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with ministers Heather Humphreys, and Paschal Donohoe at IT Carlow yesterday. Photo: PA


‘A little forlorn’: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with ministers Heather Humphreys, and Paschal Donohoe at IT Carlow yesterday. Photo: PA

The end of the road, the close of the campaign, the final speech. What goes through a Taoiseach's mind on such climactic occasions? Reflections on all that has passed, regrets for opportunities missed, anxieties about what lies ahead?

As Leo Varadkar pottered into Stanley's Hardware shop, the possibility for a moment of profundity hung in the air.

"Can I ask a question?" he inquired solemnly of Violet Stanley, who presides over a treasure trove of nails, bolts and adhesives vast enough to piece back together even an election campaign bulldozed to smithereens by a surge of electoral antipathy.

Violet smiled invitingly.

"You know when you walk into a hardware shop and it has this distinctive smell?" the Taoiseach began. "What is that smell?"

"Paint," said Violet kindly. "Probably the paint."

Ah, Leo, nodded. It was the same with pharmacies, he said. They have their own smell too.

He had a dreamy look about him, like a man remembering fondly his time in medicine when he merely had to deal with life and death. Not like now when he had to cope with Mary Lou McDonald.

And then, as if lured by the scent of memory or the memory of scent, he almost wafted into Morgan's Medical Hall next door to wallow a while in that soothing pharmacy aroma.

Here, he was quizzed on cuts to medical schemes, ever-growing demands on the pharmacy sector and fears for the future of community pharmacists in the era of large chain takeovers.

None of the questions were easy but Leo's expression said, keep them coming, it's nice in here.

It hadn't been the most auspicious start to the Taoiseach's tour of Tullow in Carlow's deep south.

He alighted from his car beneath a statue of Fr Murphy, the 1798 rebel priest executed on that very spot.

There was the usual meet and greet with constituency volunteers. An enthusiastic supporter presented him with an apple because "an apple a day keeps Sinn Féin away".

A man joined in the feeding frenzy and produced a Mars bar. Leo accepted it graciously while silently begging someone to remove it before he had to double his evening gym session.

But other locals smelled blood and circled.

Three years waiting for a knee operation, said one woman.

Six years for an MRI, said a man who fell off a ladder in 2013 and off every waiting list since.

Too many years to remember for a disability shower, added the relative of an elderly woman who simply wanted a little dignity and comfort in her twilight years.

One man tackled the Taoiseach over the CervicalCheck controversy and likened it to the blood products scandal of 1987.

"Ah now, I was eight at the time," said Leo, moving swiftly on.

It wasn't the first time Little Leo was evoked. At Carlow Institute of Technology earlier, the Taoiseach spoke of the great opportunities for young graduates now, unlike 10 years ago or in the 1980s.

He still remembered the kids in his communion class who emigrated, he said. That 50 quid in fivers from the aunties could get you all the way to London at that time (he didn't say).

The tone was a little forlorn for a man simultaneously declaring he would be canvassing and coaxing voters right up to 10pm on Saturday to ensure they did the right thing.

It took wing-man (or waiting-in-the-wings man) Paschal Donohoe to rescue the situation.

He launched into a cheerleading of the Taoiseach, proclaiming him the only man to lead the country into our great future.

And he should know. "I've seen this man over the last number of years more often than I've seen my wife," he said to predictable laughter.

Back in Tullow, Leo was steered into a florists with a window full of Valentine's bouquets, possibly with a shopping list from Paschal.

The election campaign may not have gone to plan but at least there, everything was smelling of roses.

Irish Independent