Saturday 17 March 2018

No swanning around for Leo as his workload eclipses all

Leo Varadkar addresses an Enterprise Ireland event in Toronto
Leo Varadkar addresses an Enterprise Ireland event in Toronto
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

For someone so busy "swanning around Canada", Leo looked aghast at the idea that someone thought they had spotted him walking through the lobby wearing shorts.

"Shorts?" he asked slowly, completely mystified and almost scandalised.

No, the Taoiseach was doing his swanning around in a business suit. It was great. We hardly had to do a tap.

"They think he's swanning around?" asked a Canadian official, flicking through the pages of Leo's schedule in agitation, rattling off the early business breakfast where Leo had talked earnestly about trade deals and expanding Ireland's global 'footprint', followed by the business lunch where he had spoken earnestly about tourism, the reception later with the Irish Ambassador and his forthcoming trip to the border.

"I hadn't seen that criticism," said the Taoiseach with a fixed, bright and steely smile - forgetting how he had directly tweeted a certain bellicose broadcaster to deny that he had been "swanning".

"I'm certainly enjoying it - I always enjoy my job, even the tough days," he said of the trip. "It's a very busy programme and we're going to get a lot done."

And that was that. He even made us miss the solar eclipse because we were stuck in a darkened room with no windows listening to him talking about the importance of not being complacent about tourism and the need to keep up the momentum.

Meanwhile, the rest of Toronto gathered excitedly with their cardboard glasses to catch a glimpse of this phenomenon of the moon's progression. Swanning ain't what it used to be, sadly.

After the razzmatazz of the parade the previous day - which had left us with the sneaking feeling that this was not exactly Leo's scene anyway - he was back on more comfortable terrain. The serious stuff.

It was an early start with the Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Ireland breakfast, where members of the Irish-Canadian community had gathered to take a look at the new guy and hear what he had to say.

Leo rolled out his squeaky new plan - Ireland's Global Footprint 2025 - which aims to see an increased presence around the world, he explained. He was vague later on the costing. That hasn't been organised yet. But he name-checked New Zealand, Canada and Mumbai as places that should have more of an Irish influence. And it would be less about diplomacy, more about trade and commerce, he added.

He talked about how Ireland was emerging from a 'lost decade' - but warned that Brexit poses the greatest set of political and economic challenges in a generation.

"The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union poses major economic and political challenges for us," he said.

Interestingly, he again spoke in strong terms about being "resolute in our determination that there can be no return to a physical Border on the island".

"Indeed, we want no new barriers to trade or movement at all. We should build bridges, not borders."

Tomorrow, the Taoiseach is paying an informal 'fact-finding mission' to the border between Canada and the USA to check it out for himself. He's been told that it's a 'soft border' but he doesn't seem to believe that.

"I have heard some people who are promoters of Brexit using it as an example as a solution that could work in Ireland. I have heard them describe it as a soft border, I wonder if that is the case?" he mused.

"There are people who have told me it's not."

"There are passport checks and customs checks and when I flew in from the US I had to fill a customs form," he said.

He didn't hold back, either, when it came to describing "those who promote Brexit" as being "wrong-headed" in claiming that the EU is holding them back on striking deals with the rest of the world.

But he was upbeat about Brexit at the tourism lunch, insisting: "Whatever happens with Brexit", he is absolutely convinced the free movement of individuals, free movement of people, will not change, north and south, without passports.

Sit-down interviews with local media, a meeting with the Irish-Canadian Immigration centre and a reception with the Irish Community at the Irish Embassy wrapped up Leo's swanning around.

Irish Independent

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