Tuesday 23 October 2018

Out-of-touch slips beg the question - does Fine Gael have a posh problem?

Leo Varadkar, Model Waris Dirie, Susanne Thier and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pose prior the opening of the Opera Ball 2018, the sumptuous highlight of the Austrian capital's ball season, on February 8, 2018 at the State Opera House in Vienna. / AFP PHOTO / APA / ROLAND SCHLAGER / Austria OUTROLAND SCHLAGER/AFP/Getty Images
Leo Varadkar, Model Waris Dirie, Susanne Thier and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pose prior the opening of the Opera Ball 2018, the sumptuous highlight of the Austrian capital's ball season, on February 8, 2018 at the State Opera House in Vienna. / AFP PHOTO / APA / ROLAND SCHLAGER / Austria OUTROLAND SCHLAGER/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Darcy
Catherine Noone

Cormac McQuinn

DOES Fine Gael have a posh problem? It doesn't help when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is snapped in full white-tie regalia among Vienna's high society at the glitzy Opera Ball.

Of course, he couldn't turn down an invitation from the Austrian Chancellor with whom he'd earlier discussed important matters like Brexit and the EU Budget.

However, much more problematic for Fine Gael than photographs of the Taoiseach in the penguin suit are remarks made by some of the party's politicians this week.

Take, for instance, junior finance minister Michael D'Arcy.

Michael Darcy
Michael Darcy

He was asked about property rental website Daft's report showing spiralling rental prices.

His response to the headline figures in Dublin was that there are cheaper homes elsewhere in the city with rent "for a fraction of what's being quoted".

He said these could be found "a couple of streets towards the river and the other side of the river."

According to Mr D'Arcy, the high end of Dublin's property market is expensive, as it is in other cities he's been to that also have issues rental sector issues.

He gave the far-flung examples of San Francisco, Singapore and Shanghai.

Barry Cowen of Fianna Fáil called his comments "truly remarkable" and accused Mr D'Arcy of being "detached from reality".

Labour's Alan Kelly said if they were "a reflection of the general views across the party, then certainly they're out of touch".

Mr D'Arcy didn't respond to that criticism last night.

The Irish Independent contacted his department to see if it could provide us with some examples of what Mr D'Arcy was talking about. It didn't provide us with any. Mr D'Arcy won't win fans among those who are struggling to find accommodation they can afford - in the midst of a housing crisis - by telling them to look elsewhere for cheaper rent.

Another example of an attitude that won't win Fine Gael any new support were somewhat astonishing remarks made by Senator Catherine Noone about the scrapping of most 'ministerial Mercs' during the economic crash.

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Catherine Noone

She told the Seanad this week that ministers shouldn't have lost their State cars and politicians "get no gratitude for that kind of thing."

Cost-cutting measures in 2011 saw all politicians bar the President, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Justice Minister lose the cars and Garda drivers. Ministers now use their own cars and can hire civilian drivers paid for with taxpayers' cash.

Ms Noone's remarks came as she was speaking in favour of better pay and conditions for councillors.

She said politicians had "degraded" themselves over the years and "made populist moves to try and endear ourselves to a public" who aren't interested in such moves. Perhaps there are ministers who would agree with her view about the now long-gone State cars, but try finding any who would be willing to say that publicly.

And last month there was Mr Varadkar - causing trouble for himself that he really didn't have to - in remarks about prospective house-buyers trying to fund deposits on houses.

He told the Dáil that some people go abroad to earn money or live in the family home to save cash while "others get money from their parents" adding: "Lots of us did." While many do go to the 'bank of mam and dad', it's an option that's not open to large sections of the population.

Mr Varadkar later clarified that he himself took out a 100pc mortgage but not before accusations from Mr Cowen that Mr Varadkar had "put his posh boy credentials on display".

Political opponents will never be slow to take advantage of these kinds of slips. Fine Gael would do well to remember that if they're to avoid a repeat of their 2016 election disaster with its tone-deaf slogan 'Let's keep the recovery going'.

Irish Independent

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