Pe­tu­lant Leo shows he’s more spin than sub­stance

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - Sam Smyth sam.smyth@mailon­sun­

MOST of the hard­work­ing folk who got up early on Fri­day morn­ing would have been ex­hausted couch pota­toes watch­ing Leo Varad­kar’s Ard Fheis speech that evening on tele­vi­sion. His ad­dress was long on big thoughts, short of cheap shots and writ­ten in those ab­stract, clenched sen­tences beloved by aca­demics.

He said noth­ing about the scan­dal of suc­ces­sive Fine Gael-led gov­ern­ments aid­ing and abet­ting cravenly dis­hon­est banks rob­bing the own­ers of tracker-mort­gages. Nor did he ac­knowl­edge the con­tin­u­ing fail­ure of the health ser­vice af­ter six years of Fine Gael in of­fice.

Not a word about his col­leagues in Gov­ern­ment act­ing like pub­lic­i­ty­seek­ing mis­siles locked on to North Korea. Fine Gael min­is­ters ig­nored the Py­ongyang farce for 10 days, and it was left to the ad­mirable in­de­pen­dent ju­nior min­is­ter, Kevin Boxer Mo­ran, to say ‘enough al­ready’.

Leo’s Big Thoughts will be shoe­horned into a 45-page draft for trans­form­ing this mod­est Repub­lic into the sort of place he out­lined in ear­lier doc­u­ments: the first pub­lished in the Fine Gael lead­er­ship con­test and an­other pa­per set­ting out the party’s 10-year plan.

He has been leader for only five months, although it seems longer, watch­ing him rit­u­al­is­ti­cally do the same rou­tine each day in Le­in­ster House. His fa­ther was not a Fine Gaeler (Leo found his own way to the party as a stu­dent) and Leo be­lieves in­di­vid­ual free­doms go hand in hand with com­pas­sion, fight­ing cli­mate change and the free mar­ket.

All very laud­able, but his big­gest worry is that too many peo­ple see the po­lit­i­cal Leo Varad­kar as a Franken­stein cre­ation of mar­ket­ing men: more spin than sub­stance. His pe­tu­lant per­for­mance in the Dáil last Wed­nes­day was like a newly qual­i­fied doc­tor try­ing to be­lit­tle a more ex­pe­ri­enced col­league with a more com­fort­ing bed­side man­ner.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Mar­tin had asked him about the ‘ter­ri­ble black­guard­ing’ around the fund­ing of hos­pices and asked for pay link­ages to be re­stored.

Leo ap­peared to go into a huff, and no­body com­ing a priv­i­leged Dublin back­ground should ac­cuse a son of the work­ing class in Cork of us­ing ‘un­par­lia­men­tary’ lan­guage ‘un­be­com­ing of his of­fice’. It was posh Blan­chard­stown look­ing down its nose at Turner’s Cross.

It was a first in­di­ca­tion that Varad­kar is leav­ing us for that strange land of imag­i­nary friends where politi­cians re­fer to them­selves in the Third Per­son. If he had said, ‘Leo Varad­kar is en­ti­tled to be ad­dressed in a man­ner be­fit­ting a pres­i­dent rather than as a job­bing politi­cian,’ the mes­sage would not have been clearer.

Per­haps it was a test run for a new per­sona for the Taoiseach un­der con­struc­tion in the Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Unit.

Still, what­ever flight of fancy Varad­kar was on last Wed­nes­day, by Fri­day he had to re­call that Si­mon Coveney was more pop­u­lar with party mem­bers at the lead­er­ship elec­tion just five months ago. JOHN HAL­LI­GAN at­tempted to redeem him­self on Fri­day by re­veal­ing he had asked a male in­ter­vie­wee the same ques­tion he had asked the woman who ac­cused him of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Alas, his re­call was chal­lenged and he was back in the min­is­te­rial sin bin by late af­ter­noon. Clearly no mal­ice was in­tended on Hal­li­gan’s part; he was sim­ply ig­no­rant of con­tem­po­rary prac­tice. But he now has to pay what could be a €20,000 bill for le­gal fees and com­pen­sa­tion.

I won­der about the fe­male civil ser­vant, a 23-year vet­eran who has worked closely with a sec­re­tary gen­eral, the four-star gen­er­als of the pub­lic ser­vice.

The mother of two col­lected €7,500 af­ter re­port­ing the min­is­ter’s dis­crim­i­nat­ing ques­tions to the Work­place Re­la­tions Com­mis­sion. The Pub­lic Ser­vice Ex­ec­u­tive Union de­scribed Hal­li­gan’s ques­tion to her as ‘out­ra­geous’. But then a lot of peo­ple who were ‘shocked, ap­palled and out­raged’ had their hurt as­suaged by the gen­er­ous €7,500 com­pen­sa­tion.

Civil ser­vants have al­ways been very fair when it comes to award­ing com­pen­sa­tion to other civil ser­vants – but even a so­cial­ist like Hal­li­gan will wince at pay­ing off a civil ser­vant from his own pocket. Tax­pay­ers usu­ally pick up the bill for so­cial­ists’ in­dul­gences, like can­celling the wa­ter charges. WHEN ac­tor Kevin Spacey was in Dublin in 1998 film­ing Or­di­nary De­cent Crim­i­nal, some of those work­ing with him told me he was a re­lent­less sex­ual preda­tor.

Colin Far­rell played a small part and Gerry Stem­bridge wrote the script, and it went straight to video in the US in 2003.

Some of those who worked on the film told me about Spacey im­por­tun­ing young men in Dublin.

The ac­cu­sa­tions made against Spacey in Dublin are shock­ing – and the de­tails of his al­leged sex­ual as­saults on youths in other ju­ris­dic­tions now com­pare with the worst of Har­vey We­in­stein.

If We­in­stein is be­ing writ­ten out of Hol­ly­wood his­tory af­ter his out­ing, then di­rec­tors are lit­er­ally edit­ing Spacey out of films he re­cently ap­peared in, and re­plac­ing him with other ac­tors. Kevin Spacey is be­ing re­branded as Kevin Who? HAPPY An­niver­sary to Don­ald Trump – a year on from his vic­tory and still un­able to lift his ap­proval rat­ing above 38%. It is worth re­mem­ber­ing that Trump per­suaded seven mil­lion peo­ple who had voted for Barack Obama to vote for him last Novem­ber. Trump’s Obama vot­ers were only 4% of the elec­torate, but if they stay with him he will be pres­i­dent un­til 2025.

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