Monday 15 July 2019

Leo at 40: Taoiseach has grown into the role but still shows signs of immaturity


Birthday boy: Leo Varadkar gets a cake from DCU students and staff including Denise Hosford from HeadstARTS who gave him a hug
Birthday boy: Leo Varadkar gets a cake from DCU students and staff including Denise Hosford from HeadstARTS who gave him a hug
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A man who shares his birthday with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar once said being a perfectionist was part of his job.

But even Pep Guardiola's Manchester City lose occasionally.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Log In

We don't expect our football managers to be perfect, and neither should we with our politicians.

What is often missing from the day-to-day news coverage of life in Leinster House is the fact that our TDs are real people too. They like to go home in the evening, watch a bit of football or go for a jar down the local.

Mr Varadkar will celebrate his 40th birthday tonight with family, friends and work colleagues.

It's probably not a milestone our youngest ever Taoiseach was looking forward to. He relished the idea of becoming the head of government in his 30s, something that had never been done before. Forty qualifies him for the status of 'middle-aged man', which is less cool with the kids.

When he took over from Enda Kenny, there was plenty of commentary around whether somebody so young could do the top job. Would he have the life experience to understand the nation? Was he too obsessed with his social media image? Could he carry himself appropriately in the company of other leaders like Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron?

A balanced look at his 18 months as Taoiseach suggests Mr Varadkar has answered most of those questions positively - but there are still some signs of immaturity.

The most recent episode was his night out at Kylie Minogue. A little noticed Facebook post claimed the Taoiseach got a free meal at the pop princess's concert in the 3Arena. You might think, so what if the prime minister gets a free meal?

But rather than simply ignore the post, which had been seen by a handful of people, Mr Varadkar told his 186,000 Twitter followers across the world that he had the receipt. "There was no meal, we only had drinks and I paid," he wrote, sparking copious amounts of commentary and debate about his social life.

That wasn't the first time he got into trouble on a night out. He should have learned about the LCD Soundsystem episode in October 2017.

On that occasion Mr Varadkar ended up being called a "tosser" by the band's guitarist after a dispute over whether or not he would pose in front of a 'Repeal' sign backstage in the Olympia. The Taoiseach ended up having to issue a statement that began: "Friday night I went to a concert with some friends. It was a private occasion."

He went on to describe it as "an ordinary, relatively pleasant engagement".

It's not just his socialising that lands him in unnecessary hot water though. Mr Varadkar is part of a generation that knows all too well the difficulties of the housing market.

He bought an apartment in the boom years, so he should be well placed to speak with authority on the crisis.

But one of his most memorable contributions to the debate was the suggestion that young workers should turn to the 'bank of mammy and daddy'.

He said people raise deposits "in many different ways". "Sometimes people go abroad for a period and earn money. Others get money from their parents. Lots of us did." In reality, Mr Varadkar hadn't received help from his parents, he'd got a 100pc mortgage.

Then there were the foreign gaffes.

With Brexit brewing, his first visit to London after taking office was a serious affair up until the point the Taoiseach thought he was on the 'Love Actually' movie set.

It was "a little thrill" to be in Downing Street, he said, sparking a collective national cringe.

That frivolous gaffe was put into perspective by what happened in America, though. Visiting Donald Trump is a tricky assignment at the best of times - but Mr Varadkar was handling the situation quite well until he started telling folksy tales over lunch.

He joked about helping the billionaire prevent a wind farm near his hotel in Co Clare getting planning permission.

It went down well on Capitol Hill but the humour was certainly lost in translation by the time the video crossed the Atlantic.

On another trip to the United States, Mr Varadkar was caught bitching about gossipy journalists.

But for all his mistakes Mr Varadkar has grown into the position of Taoiseach. It's not easy being in the public eye all day, every day.

He has gone to such efforts to keep his big birthday bash a media-free zone that invitees are still waiting on a WhatsApp message with the location for tonight.

Ultimately there is no point trying to be a perfectionist like Pep (48), but perhaps he could take his lead from another man who shares his birthday. John Hume (82) once said: "I never thought in terms of being a leader. I thought very simply in terms of helping people."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section