Friday 18 October 2019

Varadkar streaks into lead but it's early days

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath


If he runs the Government as well as he is running his campaign for the Fine Gael leadership, then Leo Varadkar would be a formidable taoiseach and a huge electoral asset to his party in the next general election.

What started off as a real contest to succeed Enda Kenny is in danger of becoming a coronation for the 38-year-old Dublin-born doctor. The tone for the second full day of campaigning began with Minister Paschal Donohoe's early morning endorsement of Mr Varadkar as "the most capable politician of my generation".

It was followed a couple of hours later by equally gushing praise for the young pretender from Charlie Flanagan. The Foreign Affairs Minister said that when he "stepped outside the bubble of Leinster House" to take stock, he reached the conclusion that Mr Varadkar was the "change candidate" that was needed.

Mr Flanagan's unexpected support sent shock waves through Simon Coveney's camp, which was quick to say it's not over yet.

It pointed to the previous leadership heave when Richard Bruton's supposed early lead was quickly overturned by Enda Kenny. But six years ago Mr Kenny had big Phil Hogan in his corner and there is nobody with the latter's street-fighting skills working for Mr Coveney.

The Cork-born merchant prince has boasted that he has never lost an election before.

But this could be the first time he has come up against that old political adage that "nice guys finish last".

The expected size of Mr Varadkar's success will lead to pressure on the victor to claim all the spoils and clean out what might be regarded as the old guard in Government.

The temptation should be resisted. He should learn from Mr Kenny's example of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer. Mr Kenny overlooked Mr Bruton's attempted heave and appointed him to the Cabinet where he was a loyal and hardworking minister. Mr Coveney, who has always put the interests of the party and country ahead of his own, would do exactly the same.

And whoever is elected to the highest political office in the land, he will need all the support he can get.

Public sector pay battle will be an early test for new Taoiseach

Away from the Fine Gael leadership hustings, the business of Government goes on, with public sector pay talks starting on Monday.

The outcome will feed into budget deliberations which are already the subject of preliminary work by the different departments.

The unions will be stepping up pressure for pay rises and unwinding Fempi legislation which was introduced during the financial emergency when the country's economy teetered on the brink.

They will take heart from Minister Paschal Donohoe's statement last week that the Government can consider and negotiate modest improvements to public service pay and conditions.

Not so, says economist Colm McCarthy, he of the 2009 Bord Snip report which recommended cuts in public spending. We all know there is very little fiscal space and Mr McCarthy's fear is that a weak Government will cave in to union demands.

It's a fear shared by many and will prove to be an early test for the next taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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