Tuesday 15 October 2019

Editorial: 'Suffering is more acute when leaders fail to listen'

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA


The problem with people in leadership roles being tone deaf is not just the way they display they are out of touch.

It's also the upset they cause with their disengaged commentary.

Take Leo Varadkar. The Taoiseach is the country's youngest ever leader. So it was fair for those under the age of 40 to assume he was in tune with their needs.

And then he frequently goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid. Mr Varadkar stands accused of dismissing the plight of thousands of young people seeking to buy their first home after he said it has never been easy to get a mortgage.

Defending the Government's lamentable record on housing, the Taoiseach said it has always been difficult to save for a mortgage.

He reflected on his parents telling him about the 1980s when they had interest rates of 16pc and huge difficulty buying a house.

"A lot of people, when they bought a first home, they were only able to furnish one room a year, so we should never make out it is an easy thing, but it should be a prospect."

The point the Taoiseach appears to be missing is there is a large cohort emerging now who have little prospect of ever buying a home. Mr Varadkar's failure to relate is jarring and will anger those who make up what is now known as Generation Rent.

But not even the Taoiseach took the unwanted accolade of most lacking in empathy. Step forward Tony O'Brien, former chief executive of the HSE. He resigned earlier than expected this year at the height of the CervicalCheck scandal, which has claimed the lives of around 20 women so far and saw hundreds not being informed of an audit revising their earlier negative smear tests.

The former health chief does acknowledge the pain of the families and the sense the system failed them.

Yet while the scandal rolls on and women continue to die, Mr O'Brien chooses to settle old scores. He has a go at Health Minister Simon Harris, the Dáil Public Accounts Committee, and the media. Mr Harris is out of his depth, he says, and the Government would be better served to move him on.

But Mr O'Brien's self-serving riposte does little to engender a sense there was real leadership in the HSE when he was in charge.

In his lengthy whinge, Mr O'Brien poses the hypothetical question: "Where's the office you go to to get your reputation back after weeks of relentless media coverage?"

More importantly, Mr O'Brien should reflect that there is nowhere for families to go to get back their wives and mothers who were lost.

Tony O'Brien is not the victim here. The women who were failed in the CervicalCheck scandal are the victims. It would be no harm for him to remember that.

Irish Independent

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