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Leo won't become king of the political jungle with his roaring gaffes

Leo Varadkar is a young man in a hurry. At less than 30 years of age, the brash young Fine Gael TD has made it clear that he intends to get to the top of the political ladder as quickly as possible. In the meantime, he's happy to fill the right-wing rotttweiler role left vacant by Michael McDowell (remember him?).

Unfortunately for the man who distributed hundreds of Lion bars emblazoned with the logo "Vote No 1 Leo the Lion", he also has a certain McDowell-like flaw that might just stop him from becoming king of the political jungle. He cannot resist shooting his mouth off.

In a week where the Government should have been feeling the heat over its economic woes, Varadkar has landed himself in hot water with his suggestion that unemployed immigrants should be offered six months' worth of dole money in return for going back to their own countries.


It's a striking idea that might just have some merit if the details were properly worked out. By blurting it out at a Dail committee without any advance warning, however, the FG enterprise spokesman has inevitably opened himself up to the accusations of being insensitive at best, downright racist at worst.

Even a relative newcomer such as Varadkar should know by now that before saying a single word about anything to do with immigration, you need to do your homework and make sure nobody can misunderstand where you're coming from.

No other issue is prone to causing more offence and no other issue requires politicians to choose their words with absolute care.

When you consider what happened to his colleague Brian Hayes just a couple of weeks ago, there's really no excuse for Varadkar's carelessness.

Hayes suggested that immigrant schoolchildren who are struggling with the English language should be "segregated" and given special lessons in order to give them a chance to catch up.

It was actually a perfectly sensible idea -- but by foolishly using a word that has connotations of the old apartheid regime in South Africa, Hayes left himself wide open to the inevitable cries of "racism" that drowned out any hope of a constructive debate.

This is far from being the first time that Varadkar's big mouth has raised eyebrows in Leinster House. In his very first week as a TD, he declared that Bertie Ahern belonged "in the gutter" and claimed that the then Taoiseach's tribunal woes would stain his reputation just as the Iraq war has stained Tony Blair's.

It takes a lot to make Bertie angry in public, but Varadkar's arrogant remarks managed it with ease. He accused the cheeky young pup of not respecting his elders and muttered that with any luck, the electorate would turf him out at the earliest possible opportunity.

Varadkar's rise within Fine Gael has been nothing short of meteoric. The son of an Indian-born GP in Castleknock, he got the highest vote in the entire country at the 2004 local elections. He was then comfortably elected to the Dail last year in the bear-pit constituency of Dublin West, ousting the colourful Socialist leader Joe Higgins in the process.

Despite his image as a new face in the party, he actually represents the core conservative values of old FG.

He believes in a strong law-and-order response to crime, he's passionate about the free market and he wants a radical overhaul of the public sector. He's one of the few Irish politicians who's openly said that he hopes John McCain beats Barack Obama in the US presidential election.

The only new FG TD to secure a frontbench portfolio, he has made little secret of the fact that he sees himself as a future leader of the party.

It could well happen. However, the history of FG is littered with the sad stories of young know-it-alls who were tipped for greatness but never quite delivered on their early promise.

Varadkar is undeniably bright, articulate and self-confident -- but if he really wants to get to the top, he needs to take a few lessons from Bertie Ahern in one all-important quality. It's called likeability.