Wednesday 21 August 2019

Could Leo Varadkar have breached Irish national security by posting this tweet?

We must be concerned after the Taoiseach used national security chiefs to 'spin' his own image as leader, writes Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tweeted "Cabinet Committee F meeting for the second time today: bringing together heads of Irish security to discuss ongoing work in national security"
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The most relevant question this weekend is whether a terrorist attack is imminent in Ireland, or whether some form of threat to national security exists. I ask this not to alarm - although we should be told if there is - but to draw attention to the Taoiseach's increasingly questionable use of his Twitter account.

What other conclusion can be drawn from his posting on that medium on Thursday of a photograph captioned: "Cabinet Committee F meeting for the second time today: bringing together heads of Irish security to discuss ongoing work in national security."

It was not immediately clear whether this was the second time on the same day that Leo Varadkar had met with the heads of national security, in which case there may be genuine cause for alarm; or whether this was his second Cabinet sub-committee meeting in that office that day. It is at such meetings that the real work is done, before it is signed off on at a subsequent full meeting of the Cabinet.

Either way, for the first time in the history of the State, insofar as I am aware, a Taoiseach has published a photograph with all of the heads of national security, and other clearly identifiable related figures, at a meeting, in an image not unlike the occasional publication when a US President or UK Prime Minister releases a strictly controlled war-time or 'situation room' photograph for historical record.

Such photographs were not published on any medium when, say, the security of the State was under threat throughout the Provisional IRA campaign of terrorism, or at any other time when there was a risk to the safety and wellbeing of citizens.

So, why now; is there a threat to national security?

If not, we need to be told why last week Leo Varadkar deemed it necessary to post a photograph of a meeting which he attended in his capacity as Taoiseach, with the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and others ministers, along with the Secretary General to the Government. They were in serious mid-discussion on an apparently serious matter with the heads of national security, at least two of whom, including the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, were in uniform and with paperwork on the desk in front of them, in one case, on a lap closest to camera, which would not be beyond the expertise of a technical expert to refocus and read.

This is a most serious matter, a potential breach of national security no less, which has been passed over with an apparent collective shrug as if to say 'That's Leo', or 'That's transparency' or even 'That's modern communications for you' when it is anything but. It is much more than that. It is, as I say, a potential breach of national security.

But let us leave aside that appalling vista for a moment, and speculate as to what else the publication of this photograph tells us. It may tell us that there is currently a potential security threat to the State, certainly; or alternatively, it tells us that Leo Varadkar is prepared either to (a) potentially place in jeopardy, or compromise the security of the State for his own political purposes, or (b) use the heads of national security for his own political purposes. There can be no other plausible explanation.

So now we get closer to the nub of the matter, and that nub is 'spin'.

You can be sure that the heads of national security will not publicly make an issue of this clear breach of either security and/or protocol, and my sources in that area are not good enough to establish their true views on the matter, but experience tells me that such serious figures would be far from happy, indeed concerned, indeed deeply perturbed to be so used in what is, at a minimum, an evident breach of what is surely the assumed confidentiality of such meetings.

I also note from Twitter that Fianna Fail's Defence spokeswoman Lisa Chambers has re-tweeted the image under the hashtags #reckless and #spinpriority.

In my view the Taoiseach's tweeting of this photograph was certainly reckless, but if you do not agree with that, there can be no doubt that his doing so clearly speaks to his narcissistic desire to present himself in a certain light to citizens, one of an authoritative figure at the centre of serious State security issues as he would have it; but conversely, I feel, as somebody who has so far failed to internalise the responsibilities of the high office he holds on our behalf, which requires sensitive handling and tactile management of people and issues rather than placing himself up front and centre in every situation wherein that office places him as if to say 'Look at me!'.

Donald Trump aside, the other (national) politician to use Twitter in this manner is the Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who to my mind should be remembered, among other things, for his use of that medium to philosophise on the merits of lollipops: "When u come 2 the end of a lollipop. 2 the end. 2 the end of a lollipop. When u come 2 the end of a lollipop. Pop goes ur heart. Xo TGBE."

Leo Varadkar's use of 'spin', his apparent superego desire to place himself at the centre of all of our lives, tells us that if the Taoiseach were a lollipop he would lick himself.

But such a statement would be to minimise his publication on Twitter of this photograph, of a national security briefing, and I have no desire to do that. This publication is a serious matter, an undoubted error, yet another one even more serious than his use of Twitter to blather on about the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana on a day when two homeless people had died on the streets of Dublin.

More than anything, this publication shows that the Taoiseach knows no bounds, or is prepared to extend all pre-existing boundaries to a dangerous level, to use senior national security chiefs solely for his own political gratification.

It is time to be concerned folks - really concerned about the pressing issue of Leo Varadkar and his insatiable desire to 'spin'.

Sunday Independent

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