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Leo basks in glow of approval - but Simon's feeling heat

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Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Health and Martin Dunne, Director of the National Ambulance Service at the launch of a national network of Community first responders. The network aims to double the number of CFR responders schemes in the coutry in the next 12 months and increase the survival rate of victims of cardiac arrest. Picture: Damien Eagers

Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Health and Martin Dunne, Director of the National Ambulance Service at the launch of a national network of Community first responders. The network aims to double the number of CFR responders schemes in the coutry in the next 12 months and increase the survival rate of victims of cardiac arrest. Picture: Damien Eagers

Leo Varadkar, TD, Minister for Health and Martin Dunne, Director of the National Ambulance Service at the launch of a national network of Community first responders. The network aims to double the number of CFR responders schemes in the coutry in the next 12 months and increase the survival rate of victims of cardiac arrest. Picture: Damien Eagers

One observer cast a quizzical eye over the larger than usual number of reporters and photographers milling about outside the National Concert Hall. "Has an election been called?" he wondered aloud.

Well, no. Not in so many words. Not in any words at all, really. But despite the Taoiseach's insistence at every opportunity that the starting-gun will definitely not be fired until April 2016, a phoney war is most decidedly underway.

Cross-party sniping has increased in volume, and most certainly bullets were flying between Fine Gael's Simon Coveney and Labour's Kathleen Lynch this week, with a bitter war of words erupting after the Agriculture Minister (and potential future leader) declared he "wouldn't have an ideological problem" with his party hammering out a coalition deal with the auld enemy, Fianna Fáil.

But Kathleen Lynch was less gung-ho about her fellow Cork colleague Simon's scheme. "A bit disloyal," peppered the junior minister in response.

Hence the sizeable media presence awaiting the arrival of Leo Varadkar to the NCH where he was due to launch the national network of community first responders. For he hadn't shot down the idea of such an alliance either, remarking recently that such a political union "would be a little like same-sex marriage - it would seem wrong at first but would probably work out fine in the end".

Furthermore, it was Leo's first public engagement since he came out as gay during a radio interview last Sunday.

Despite the huge storm of interest following what was a ground-breaking decision to go public about his sexuality, Leo looked relaxed as he strolled into the concert hall's car-park where several teams of first responders were lined up for the photo-opportunity, along with two plastic resuscitation dummies (called Ann and Annie, apparently).

At the end of the interview with Miriam O'Callaghan on Sunday, he admitted that coming out was a weight off his shoulders, and he looked a happier man yesterday.

However, he wasn't so carried away with relief that he answered the photographers' fervent prayers by proceeding to demonstrate either mouth-to-mouth or heart resuscitation on Ann or Annie, contenting himself with standing cheerfully beside the dummies.

So, what had he made of the reaction to his announcement? On Tuesday he tweeted his gratitude for the overwhelmingly warm response, saying: "Thanks so much for all the kind messages. I can't reply to each one individually but I really do appreciate them all".

However yesterday Leo wasn't anxious to expound further on his absorbing chat with Miriam. "Everyone's been really nice and very supportive, but obviously this week I'm focussing back on the day job, and there's a lot going on in Health as you know, so that's the priority at the moment," he explained, seguing swiftly from the personal to the political.

He also vigorously denied that there was any jostling for the leadership crown in Fine Gael, insisting that Enda was in situ on the throne and going nowhere. "There's no such battle I'm aware of, there really isn't," he said firmly. Though if the game is afoot, then Simon slid down a snake this week, while Leo whizzed up a ladder.

Then Doctor Leo did his darndest to patch up the Coalition's cuts and bruises.

"We're in coalition with Labour. I, for one, am really pleased that Labour is in government with us. I think we're a better government for it and certainly, as far as both parties are concerned, our objective is to govern as best we can between now and the election in April," he said soothingly.

It was a most diplomatic reply and it was crystal clear that Leo doesn't want to be fighting with anyone - not the Labour party, and most certainly he has a mortal fear of getting caught in the crossfire of feuding colleagues from the Rebel County.

"I don't particularly want to get into a dispute between two formidable Cork politicians - I dare not!" he declared, looking a little alarmed.

A wise move indeed.

While Leo has shown in recent days that he's not short of courage, he has learned the hard way that sometimes discretion is most definitely the better part of valour.

Irish Independent