Sunday 25 August 2019

Leo's playing it cool - but Coveney could hit right note for FG

Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke
Simon Coveney. Photo: Tom Burke

Gerard O’Regan

So there we were shooting the breeze in the studio just after a broadcast of 'The Late Debate' on RTÉ radio a few nights ago.

The on-air verbal jousting was over - until the next time - but while swapping some pleasantries, former TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin threw an aside into the conversational mix. For a second, it seemed it just might herald some juicy political gossip.

Now fighting his corner in the Seanad, Ó Ríordáin, one of the most impressive TDs to fall by the wayside in the general election, came out with a somewhat enigmatic aside: "What's Leo up to doing this 'Late Date' gig on the radio?'' he asked nobody in particular.

We all knew immediately who he was talking about. There's certainly only one Leo currently operating in the political merry-go-round - and he has the surname Varadkar. But that's the thing about Leo these days. Lots of people, Enda Kenny most of all, want to know what he's up to.

But in response to Aodhán's question, nobody unfortunately had any inside info. We all looked suitably thoughtful but really had nothing much to contribute. Anyway, Leo providing some late night balm for the nation can hardly seem overly suspicious activity. Possibly festooned in his leather jacket, and replete with trendy open-necked shirt, he will at least let us into the groove as to his musical tastes.

However, there is little the Social Protection Minister can do without his motives coming under the microscope. Fianna Fáil's Willie O'Dea has even gone on to social media to exclaim with tongue firmly in cheek: "Leo Varadkar is a marvel.''

Willie is getting a bit worked up because he fears Leo isn't keeping his shoulder to the wheel. He suggests that in his previous role as health minister, and now as Social Protection Minister, he has not been concentrating enough on the day job, for which "he is paid well by the State''.

"He has crafted a role for himself as resident chat show panellist and a sort of celebrity political commentator. He muses on how terrible things are…when it comes to political accountability … he is nowhere to be seen,'' wails Willie.

But super-cool Leo is unfazed by such a downbeat response to his upcoming stint on the airwaves.

"Ah, chill Willie. It'll be the week after Xmas & the graveyard shift. You're most welcome to ring in a request if you like," he retorted on Twitter.

But as he readies for a new political year, what anyone in the Fianna Fáil tribe thinks of him matters even less than usual to Deputy Varadkar. His immediate political future is bound up with how things are shaking down among his colleagues in the Fine Gael hothouse. The campaign to replace Enda Kenny - whose intentions remain determinedly enigmatic about a possible departure date - is being fought out, albeit with velvet gloves, almost daily. The two heavy hitters in the slugfest are obviously Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney, with Paschal Donohoe and others hovering in the background.

In recent months, Varadkar has outwardly been making most of the running, especially when it comes to generating a bit of flash and dash. In contrast, Coveney has at times come across as something of a plodder swamped in our multi-layered housing miasma. Too often it looked as if he was making snail's pace progress, admittedly with the most complex political and social issue of the moment.

However, he had a thumping victory at the end to the year, pushing through a fairly unlikely Fine Gael policy of hitting landlords, while at the same time rubbing Fianna Fáil's nose in it. Facing down Barry Cowen, and by extension Micheál Martin and the parliamentary party, provided a not-to-be-underestimated seasonable uplift for Fine Gael.

Since going into Government, the party has all too often kowtowed to Fianna Fáil, with Kenny and co clearly riddled with fear of a possible election.

But now it looks as if Fianna Fáil is equally paralysed by the possibility of having to face a volatile electorate anytime soon. The very latest polls contain yet another warning. Things may go very much askew for the party if they make their move at the wrong time.

Kenny put Varadkar into one of the less glamorous ministries to put a halt to his gallop in the leadership stakes. However, Leo has kept his persona out there by hook or by crook. His yuletide sojourn as a disc jockey is but the latest example of a determination to take his chances, whenever, and wherever, he can.

But, all the while, Coveney is tracking away on another route. The reality is that the Fine Gael leadership race is far from over.

So despite our musings in that post-'Late Date' deliberation as to what Leo is up to - we should not forget Simon(left). He may yet prove to be the proverbial cute Corkman waiting, and waiting, in the long grass.

Irish Independent

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