Sunday 8 December 2019

Varadkar's copping out on where he stands isn't worthy of a leader of the country

Jackie Healy-Rae represented ‘people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day’ Picture: Tom Burke
Jackie Healy-Rae represented ‘people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day’ Picture: Tom Burke

Fionnan Sheahan

It'll be 20 years next month since the late Jackie Healy-Rae was first elected as an Independent TD. After his election was declared, the South Kerry TD was being interviewed by the late Brian Farrell, the cerebral RTÉ broadcaster.

The contrast in style between the two was stark.

Mr Farrell questioned Mr Healy-Rae on who exactly he represented. The response came: "I represent the plain people of Ireland."

When pressed by a confused Mr Farrell on who precisely these people were, Mr Healy-Rae replied: "The people who eat their dinner in the middle of the day."

It became something of a catch all catch-cry for Mr Healy-Rae, meaning everything and nothing all at once.

Leo Varadkar coined his own Healy-Rae-esque slogan at the weekend when he declared he wanted to lead a party of "people who get up early in the morning".

What does that mean?

Presumably, he's talking about people who get up for work or drop the kids to school. It ties in with his current campaign to cut down on social welfare fraud.

Along the same lines, there was his statement about what he saw as two sectors of society: "Too often, we have allowed Irish society to be divided into one group of people who pay for everything but get little in return due to means-tests, and another group who believe they should be entitled to everything for free and that someone else should pay for it."

And his pledge to cut taxes for middle income workers.

"Taxes should be low, simple and fair," he wrote in the Irish Independent two months ago, saying high tax rates "make it harder to attract skilled, qualified and talented people home".

How he will achieve this and within what time frame is not yet outlined.

On Brexit, Mr Varadkar wants to push to keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market and seeks special arrangements to ensure an 'invisible' Border.

Read More: Early riser Leo is setting the pace - but Simon's race is not run just yet

But does he believe we should achieve this by being closer to Brussels or London in the Brexit negotiations?

And where is he on the prospects of a united Ireland in the future?

Mr Varadkar has masterfully emerged as the presumptive winner of the Fine Gael leadership contest and Taoiseach-elect with a parochial and parish pump campaign focusing on the party's TDs and senators.

He has undoubtedly been aided by Simon Coveney's neglect of this 'constituency', particularly during his time as agriculture minister.

His promises of reform to internal Fine Gael structures are of no interest to the wider public.

Fine Gael parliamentarians like the idea of Mr Varadkar's appeal to the electorate based upon his profile and sharp debating style.

Ironically, for a man who characterises himself as "has been known to talk too much", Mr Varadkar has said precious little on what he will actually do once in the Taoiseach's office.

He has spoken of a "new social contract", where those who contribute to the system will benefit from it but has not provided any detail.

And where does he stand on the single most divisive issue to hit his party over the past generation?

After all, abortion did result in Fine Gael losing five TDs and two senators, including one of his best friends in politics, Lucinda Creighton.

Read More: Coveney fears that supporters will lose jobs as 'dirty tricks' see contest turn ugly

When asked repeatedly this weekend, Mr Varadkar said he was in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment as it was too restrictive, but a decision was needed on what restrictions should replace it. He refused to clarify his own views on the Citizens' Assembly's recent wide-ranging recommendations. He said he would wait for the Oireachtas committee to complete its work and his personal opinion wouldn't be forced on anyone.

He copped out.

His personal opinion does actually matter if it influences his thinking as Taoiseach when it comes to deciding upon a referendum.

And while in that space -where is he on the future of the health service, which he failed so significantly to make an impact on?

Mr Varadkar also ducked questions on the future of Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan. Where is he on public sector reform and accountability?

Of course, as he has the victory in the bag, why would he do anything to jeopardise that position and give any hostages to fortune?

It's hardly worthy, though, of a leader of the country.

Mr Coveney summed up the depth of the campaign thus far yesterday: "So far it's been a pretty superficial one."

He says it's important "people are challenged".

He has produced a document of his policy priorities. Again, it is scant on the fine detail, but starts a debate on a Minister for Infrastructure, rebalancing development in the country and a united Ireland.

What's Mr Varadkar's vision? He's been promising to set it out for long enough.

It's an internal popularity process without any policy.

The elevation of a new Taoiseach, with a questionable ministerial record, but who is adored by the party grassroots, is not without its precedent.

Leo Varadkar might like the comparisons with Garret FitzGerald. So far, he's more of a Brian Cowen, getting the top job by showing some intellectual ability and being pally with the backbenchers in the Dáil bar.

Will the Taoiseach-elect please stand up?

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 
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

Irish Independent

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