Sunday 21 July 2019

It's not enough to be the example, Leo, you have to lead by example too

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Pride. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Pride. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Fionnán Sheahan

Leo Varadkar is a narcissist.

To be fair, it's hard to find a politician who isn't.

Having your name on the ballot paper is a lonely place and when the votes are being counted, the buck doesn't stop with the canvassers or the party - only the candidate.

Since taking up office, he has treated us to his personal take on his experiences.

At Downing Street, it was his recollection of 'Love Actually'.

In Brussels, it was about Jean-Claude Juncker telling him he was around the same age when he became prime minister.

OK, Leo, now what are you going to do for the rest of us?

That very question is being posed by groups of supporters who Varadkar was supposedly going to draw into the Fine Gael fold.

In his acceptance speech on being elected Fine Gael leader, he declared it showed "prejudice has no hold in this Republic".

Speak for yourself, Leo.

The appointment of a gay man and son of a migrant does not draw a line under the quest for equality in this country.

This weekend, the new Taoiseach reassured a marginalised community he was on its side.

Varadkar marching in the Pride parade was hailed as historic, as it was the first time a Taoiseach had done so. Addressing the crowd later, he pledged "to use my office" to advance the cause of gay rights, including to press for marriage equality in Northern Ireland (good luck with convincing the DUP next time he meets Arlene Foster) and speak up for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights around the world.

"I don't think my election as Taoiseach actually made history, it just reflected it, reflected the enormous changes that had already occurred in our country," he said in Smithfield. "So, I don't think that I have changed things for you; I think people like you have changed things for me."

Arguably of more significance was the appearance of the new Taoiseach with his partner, Matt Barrett, at an official engagement, when they attended the Ireland Funds gala dinner.

During the Fine Gael leadership campaign, Varadkar made a point of stressing his partner would not be attending official events with him.

Why not? Enormous changes have occurred and it is right he be accompanied by his partner, just like any other Taoiseach.

The counterargument on Varadkar's speech to Pride is he was never much of an advocate for gay rights before he himself came out ahead of the same-sex marriage referendum two years ago.

His contention that his elevation to the highest office in the land displays a lack of prejudice doesn't take account of the fact he was well established as a genuine contender to be future Taoiseach when he told the nation he was gay. The revelation didn't change anything.

When a Taoiseach who was openly gay from the start of his career is elected, then maybe you can say there is no prejudice.

Or a woman, for that matter.

Varadkar has no doubt heard the digs that as a gay man he should have more empathy for other marginalised groups and use his position to help them, rather than pulling the ladder up after him.

Take Oisín McKenna's acerbic spoken word film to mark the beginning of Dublin Pride: 'Gay, male, votes Fine Gael'.

By the way, the spoken word artist even has a subtle pop at the Irish Independent, for which he is forgiven.

McKenna's narrative is basically a stinging rebuke of Varadkar's right-wing politics and his lack of solidarity for those on the margins, including the deliberately ironic line: "You can't be sexist if you're gay."


Varadkar didn't get where he is on his own. Now he needs to pay it forward. What he is failing to recognise is there is a lot of goodwill towards him, because of his presence, ability and back story.

He's burning it up at the moment.

Just because he was elected by the Fine Gael parliamentary party doesn't mean he is beholden to those same TDs and senators.

After all, the very reason they elected him is to broaden the party's base of support - not just to pander to the rules of old politics.

The reduction in the number of female ministers was a failure to reflect the enormous changes that have occurred in our country.

Instead, he went with an algorithm that was representative of his party numbers in the Dáil.

He played by the old rules where genes and geography already confer significant advantages in politics.

Why shouldn't gender?

Although they don't like to admit it, there are numerous TDs who got on the ticket simply because of their family name or down to being in the right place at the right time.

Varadkar appears to believe being the example is enough.

When is he going to realise he also has to lead by example?

Irish Independent

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