Tuesday 12 December 2017

Varadkar sees himself as the 'Irish Macron'

Our next Taoiseach is somewhat of an enigma but he has the attributes to bring the people with him, writes Kevin Doyle

Minister Leo Varadkar arriving at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Minister Leo Varadkar arriving at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

With Leo Varadkar nothing happens by accident. In July last year, he bounced out of his car in the courtyard of Dublin Castle to face questions about whether plans to radically reform the social welfare system were part of a leadership pitch.

His response left reporters dumbstruck: "I'm waiting for the moment I'm sitting on the toilet and some commentator somewhere decides that's part of some strategy."

It was a bizarre moment to say the least as those present wondered whether to laugh or to be a little bit disturbed.

The comment was supposed to appear spontaneous, as though he was simply irritated by all the talk of leadership.

But the way it rolled off the tongue suggested he arrived well prepared. A bit of mischief on a sunny Friday morning. The journalists left happy with a quotable remark and Varadkar wasn't probed any further on the issue. Everybody won.

And that's the way with the next Taoiseach. As the past few days have shown, he does think strategically. Where he does the musing is his own business.

Varadkar's journey to Government Buildings is somewhat unprecedented. He has been in the Dail for only a decade and at 38 years of age, he will be the youngest Taoiseach ever.

Read More: '21,000 grassroots FG voices must be heard'

Yet people feel they know Leo. They see him as fun, outgoing and articulate. And that's true. He enjoys a few pints and it wouldn't be unusual to see him out 'on the town' in Dublin. Even though he has complained in the past that he'd like a night in a pub without being a 'celebrity', he smiles through the endless selfie requests.

That lifestyle will be curtailed by his new status but we can still expect to see him donning a Dublin jersey in Croke Park over the summer.

Opponents will criticise this as 'personality politics' but as Simon Coveney has learned, there's a lot to be said for seeming accessible.

There are some parallels in his approach to that of Bertie Ahern, although Leo Varadkar would be horrified, by the comparison.

His Dail record proves him to be somebody who shoots from the hip. He once told Ahern that his claim that his unexplained money was "won on the horses" was the "defence of drug dealers and pimps". "The gutter is Bertie Ahern's natural habitat," he blasted.

But despite all the social media posts about going to the gym and touring constituencies, Varadkar is also shy and retiring. Small talk is not his forte. He prefers to communicate by text message rather than phone calls.

And there will be no replication of Enda Kenny's fist-pumping, high-fiving, slap-on-the-back style of campaigning. Varadkar is more likely to put time into flash backdrops, nice cakes and carefully language. No gaffes.

Read More: Disco dancing days over, Leo's finally decided that he wants us, but should we want him?

It leaves him open to accusations of style over substance - but Varadkar enjoys those debates.

At a time when politics is very fragmented. he is a man to bring people with him.

One of his first encounters with Michael Ring after taking over the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was very hostile. Varadkar showed up an hour late to hear the Mayo TD cursing him over a proposed list of sports grants. But over time, Ring grew to like and trust the "young pup". They worked well together, and yesterday the junior minster bounded on to the stage at Varadkar's launch party as one of the key warm-up acts.

At a time of fragmentation in politics, Leo Varadkar is well-placed to bring not only his own party together but also the centre ground.

Again, it was no accident that he showed up a rally for the new French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris a couple of weeks ago. He sees himself as the 'Irish Macron' and had the EU flag placed neatly beside the tricolour at his launch yesterday.

But pulling left and right together in Ireland is likely to be impossible. For a start, Varadkar will have to overcome accusations that he is little more than a 'Tory boy' with a few liberal views.

His recent campaign to clamp down on welfare fraud has led to an onslaught of criticism from left-wing parties.

Comments made about wanting Fine Gael to be the party that represented "people who get up early in the morning" will fuel the idea that he sits well to the right of centre.

At the same time, he will be able to point to September 2009 when a room full of business people expected to get a sympathetic ear from Varadkar after complaining that the minimum wage was "crippling" them.

"I think there is something really indecent about a society that tells people on €17,000 a year that we're going to take money off you," he said.

Statements like that prove what an enigma Varadkar can be. We have yet to see much of his policy platform, although for the foreseeable future he will have no choice but to implement the Programme for Government agreed with the Independents and the Confidence and Supply deal signed by Fianna Fail.

On the day he came out as gay, Varadkar aptly said: "I'm not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician, or a gay politician for that matter. It's just part of who I am, it doesn't define me, it is part of my character, I suppose."

He's about to make global headlines for being Ireland's first gay Taoiseach and the son of an immigrant at a time when many other countries are consumed by hatred and nationalism.

It's a good place for Ireland to be in 2017. But while none of those things define Leo Varadkar, being Taoiseach will.

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Undeclared
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Sunday Independent

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