Friday 13 December 2019

There's no 'threat' - but Taoiseach cannot be too careful

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny
John Downing

John Downing

The best definition of "political paranoia" is that it is "total awareness".

The best politicians, the ones who last the course, are the ones with the keenest peripheral vision. They see things far out of the wings; they see around corners.

Leo Varadkar is definitely the coming man in Fine Gael. He's talented and has that intangible "political likeability" about him. That likeability helps him overcome one his bigger political physiological flaws, the location of his foot far too close to his mouth. In fact, that flaw sometimes comes across as a strength.

Not all of the Health Minister's parliamentary colleagues see it that way.

"Leo's been at the 'truth serum bottle' again," one of the older Fine Gael crowd confided at Leinster House earlier this year. But he is generally well liked by the party's TDs and senators who will listen with interest to his health policy presentation in Fota Island at the party's pre-Dail return.

Indeed, there was major relief early last month when he managed to get in and out of a major government health policy about-face.

Without major damage he announced that there would not be universal health care by 2019, and the HSE would continue for some time to come.

It was in the blessed holiday time and it passed rather well for him. One party apparatchik speculated how it might have played if his recent predecessor, Dr James Reilly, had tried a similar manoeuvre. The answer is not hard to imagine.

But Leo Varadkar just went far too far this week and caused his boss Enda Kenny to give him a right ticking off.

The Taoiseach told his Health Minister, and the rest of his Cabinet, to do their Budget negotiating behind closed doors. Most ministers could ship that one and carry on.

But the Taoiseach's second point hit harder; he said he wanted to hear what a minister can do, and when, and not how it cannot be done. This public rebuke was reiterated before Fine Gael ministerial colleagues yesterday.

It is not something that often occurs and the Taoiseach had good grounds for calling a halt and laying down the law. But was there something more than just routine 'putting some stick about' involved here.

Well, it depends who you ask. It is very clear that Varadkar has leadership ambitions. The time-scale of them is not always entirely clear. The Taoiseach's supporters will tell you that there is no prospect of such things even being discussed until after the next election.

In summary, there is utterly no discernible threat to Enda Kenny's leadership this side of the general election. The fretful TDs and senators can scent a certain turning of the economic tide. For once in the nation's history the economic cycle might favour them instead of the other crowd.

Then again, you can never be too careful. Continued success in politics needs an occasional dash of paranoia.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss