Saturday 21 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Personality politics heats up for 'mystic Micheál' and the 'juveniles''

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Damien Eagers
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

In a short statement to journalists at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis on Saturday morning, Communications Minister Richard Bruton mentioned 'Leo' seven times.

He blushed afterwards when it was pointed out to him that he was leaning a little heavily on the personality politics - but ultimately he was making "no apologises for saying that Leo Varadkar has unique abilities".

The minister boasted that Mr Varadkar could "talk straight to people" and "lead change in a way that is sensitive".

Bruton is the most senior Fine Gael member of one of the youngest Cabinets in Irish history. He was soldiering in Leinster House before Simon Harris or Eoghan Murphy were born.

But there's no doubt that he has enthusiastically bought into Mr Varadkar's vision of Fine Gael as a youthful and energetic party.

Eighteen months after the doctor took over the reigns from Enda Kenny, the party has rarely been more united. But elections can change all that.

Until candidates and members see how the 'Let Leo Lead On' strategy plays at the ballot box they will be 100pc behind him.

It's a very different story over in Fianna Fáil, where some of Micheál Martin's long-term colleagues are plotting against him out of mischief as much as anything.

Mr Martin was always going to struggle to some extent with the arrival on centre stage of Mr Varadkar and Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald.

It's very hard to reinvent yourself after decades at the top of Irish politics, including a stint as health minister.

The Corkman has started using words like "juvenile" and "immature" when talking about Messrs Varadkar, Murphy and Harris.

Perhaps it's just an accident but they sound like 'trigger words' that are being used to reinforce the idea that children are running the country. Mind you, they don't help themselves when they engage in silly 'Wheel of Fortune'-style games.

Fianna Fáil knows that despite being in government for the past seven years, Fine Gael's frontbench still looks younger and fresher.

On RTÉ's 'Today with Sean O'Rourke' yesterday, Mr Martin suggested the health and housing ministers are agitating for an election because it might give them an easy way out of their unpleasant departments. He was quoting reports which first appeared in the Irish Independent some months ago.

The Taoiseach responded by laughing at the idea. "In fairness to Micheál, he seems to know the minds of ministers Murphy and Harris, but does anyone know his mind?" Mr Varadkar said, referencing the slow moving confidence and supply talks.

Much to the approval of his boss, Mr Harris pipped up to tag the Fianna Fáil leader as "mystic Micheál".

The Taoiseach also took to the airwaves yesterday but he wasn't talking to Sean O'Rourke or even Pat Kenny.

Instead, Mr Varadkar popped up on 'The Eoghan McDermott Show' on 2fm, which targets 15-34-year-olds.

He spent 15 minutes talking about his own story before moving on to the cost of rent and how rape trials are managed. Among his explanations for the housing crisis was that there is "a limited amount of concrete" in the country.

At the end, the presenter squeezed in "60 seconds on Brexit" before a quiz on 'Star Trek'. It was a bit juvenile, but recent referendums suggest young people are voters too if the politicians can get them excited about the issues.

So while the cringe factor is high, Mr Varadkar and his ministers know a big world exists outside the letters' page of the 'Irish Times'.

There is a massive game of personality politics up ahead.

Irish Independent

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