Sunday 8 December 2019

My week: Leo Varadkar

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD Photo: Damien Eagers
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar TD Photo: Damien Eagers

Eilis O'Hanlon

Monday: What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, I was preparing to celebrate my birthday by coming out on radio. I couldn't move for people telling me how great I was. This year, all anyone wants to talk about is trolleys and no one's telling me I'm great, not even Lucinda Creighton, or Lady C as we call her in the party these days. We used to tell one another we were great all the time. I do miss those days.

I take a tour of the hospitals in a snazzy yellow scarf to show I'm on top of the problem. Though just between you and me, if I wanted to spend this much time on the wards, I'd never have given up a career as a doctor to go into politics. Sometimes I wish I hadn't. It's a lot easier having a go at the Minister for Health than it is being him.

Outside, I'm doorstepped by reporters wanting a statement on waiting lists. Don't talk to me about hanging around for ages to get what you deserve. I've been waiting almost 37 years to become leader of Fine Gael and it still hasn't happened. You don't hear me complaining.

To add insult to injury, Fianna Fail's health spokesman Billy Kelleher pops up right after me on Six One News to demand I pump massive investment into beds and nurses before the election. Can you imagine his face if I did? Bang would go his entire health policy.

I suggest to Minister for Public Expenditure, Brendan Howlin - aka The Enforcer - that we should do it for a giggle, but he gives me "that" look and mutters: "Have you any idea how much that would cost?" He always says that whenever one of us makes like Oliver Twist and says: "Please, Sir, can I have some more?"

Tuesday: As if I don't have enough on my plate, now the nurses and midwives say they're going on strike next week. "How am I supposed to fix the health service if staff won't even come into work?" I grumble to civil servants. "In some countries, they wouldn't even be allowed to do that."

"But Leo," they say, "you said before Christmas that dealing with greedy drugs companies had brought out the socialist in you."

"Well, he's gone back in again," I snap.

I get down to work, only to be distracted by more calls for interviews. I'll never get this paperwork done when I spend half my time in radio and TV studios answering the same questions again and again.

There's brief relief later in the day as the media goes all out for Lady C instead, as she is launching Renua's new manifesto. I find myself remembering the days when we were young students together at Trinity. We'd sit up for hours, talking about what we'd do when I was leader of Fine Gael and she was my loyal deputy.

She insists it was the other way round, but I'm pretty sure I would never have agreed to that.

Wednesday: Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney's on Morning Ireland. I turn up the volume, trying to take no pleasure in my most dangerous rival for future FG leader struggling to explain why half the country's under water. I almost succeed.

One down, just Frances Fitzgerald to go. There's bound to be a crisis soon in the Minister for Justice's office, right? There are always more disasters in that department than there are dodgy singers on The Voice Of Ireland.

Thursday:Now Micheal Martin gets his turn to have a dig on RTE. Do Opposition TDs have a "Get Leo" rota or something? Next thing, Pearse Doherty's joined in. There might be overcrowding in the hospitals, I want to tell him, but at least I didn't put half the patients there, like Sinn Fein's mates in the IRA used to do. I run it by Enda, but he points out that he has first dibs on all the best anti-Shinner jokes.

The Nine O'Clock News offers me a chance to put my side of the story. I tell Eileen Dunne I wouldn't be able to solve all the problems in the health service even if I got a cheque for €100m in the morning. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt, Howlin, know what I'm saying?

In retrospect, wearing a blue shirt probably wasn't the wisest move. Our critics do love to drag up FG's past as a fascist fan club in fancy dress. Is it my fault blue goes so well with the embarrassed red face I've been wearing all week?

It could be worse, I reflect, as I climb into bed at the end of another long day as the nation's favourite whipping boy. I've rarely looked more buff and at least I don't have to pretend to be interested in sport these days, like I did when I was Minister for Rugger, Bogball and That Thing Culchies Do With Sticks.

Friday: My fresh-faced FF rival in Dublin West publicly criticises me for spending a few days abroad over the festive period. The cheeky pup's so wet behind the ears his shirt collar must be permanently damp.

I kick myself all the same. I swear I can hear Coveney giggling down the corridor. This keeping my nose clean for a leadership bid is harder than it looks.

What's wrong with ministers chilling out on their days off? He should see some of the Young Fine Gael discos we went to at his age. We stayed up till after 10 o'clock some nights. And people say Blueshirts don't know how to have fun.

As imagined by Eilis O'Hanlon

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