FG just can’t get ‘posh boy’ jibe out of its head
Last August 24, this newspaper led with a story under the headline “Fine Gael fears ‘posh boy’ image will kill hopes in election”.
The story, based on the views of many within Fine Gael, said the perception of the party under Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, his campaign manager Eoghan Murphy, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, and the likes of Culture Minister Josepha Madigan, was out of touch with Ireland beyond the M50.
Murphy, given the escalating housing and homelessness crisis, was the target in chief for criticism. What was startling was how that ‘posh boy’ tag stuck and has remained ever since. Even some of the party’s grandees conceded it has an image problem.
Mairead McGuinness, an MEP, said the public is “angry” at Fine Gael over the failure to deal with the housing issue and the party must heed that anger.
Her party, she said, must listen to criticisms around its failings on housing and its ‘posh boy’ image or risk a backlash.
McGuinness, who represents the constituency of Midlands/NorthWest, accepted Fine Gael is vulnerable electorally due to a failure to contain and deal with the housing crisis.
“I think we should heed what has been written,” she said. “I have this view myself around housing. The public are angry and we should listen to that anger. Reflecting on past elections, we did badly on the water issue and that was a difficult election. If it is that these [comments are being made], then we should respond.”
Dublin North West TD Noel Rock said the housing portfolio is a really difficult portfolio but that Murphy’s ‘posh boy’ image should not be held against him.
“Some people say he is doing well against a difficult backdrop, others will say he is not doing well against a difficult backdrop,” said Rock, who is from a solidly working-class background. “Nevertheless, it shouldn’t be his background held against him but the key performance metrics and the results held against him.”
Murphy, when confronted about the ‘posh boy’ tag, said his privileged background should not matter but the focus should be on the performance of his duties.
By that standard, without being unnecessarily unfair to him, he has been a spectacular failure. He has seen the numbers of those registered as homeless almost break the 10,000 ‘barrier’.
His failure led Labour leader Brendan Howlin to openly question in the Dáil this week whether the Taoiseach had confidence in him to continue on.
“My question is whether the Taoiseach is satisfied with the performance of the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government,” said Howlin. “Does he stand over and accept the performance of the minister’s department? Will he undertake a review of all of these matters? Will he publish that review in order that the House can judge whether it should continue to have confidence in the minister?”
This drew a sharp response from Varadkar, who attacked Howlin’s party for its performance on housing when they sat around the cabinet table between 2011 and 2016.
“He should not forget that there was a time, not that long ago, when he and his party had political responsibility for it,” said Varadkar. “Sitting beside him are deputies Jan O’Sullivan and [Alan] Kelly who, together, held the housing brief for five years. Deputy Kelly promised to abolish homelessness by 2016 and introduced measures that most people now accept probably made a bad situation worse.
“It appears that Deputy Howlin is applying some pretty unfair double standards in that regard because the situation emerged and got worse during the tenure of the two former ministers. It is unfair to target the minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, personally.”
It was unusual for Varadkar to attack Howlin and his comrades in such a direct way, as he has more often than not paid tribute to Labour for its time in office.
It illustrated, yet again, Varadkar’s desire to rewrite history.
In criticising Kelly and O’Sullivan, he made it sound like he was a completely disinterested bystander whereas in truth he was at the cabinet table during all of that time. A cabinet that operates on the basis of collective responsibility, so Kelly’s mistakes were by definition Varadkar’s mistakes.
He has had a habit of throwing people under the bus in order to insulate himself from negative attention. Just ask Denis Naughten.
He has done it to his pal, minister of state Jim Daly, on several occasions, to Simon Harris too. He has done it to nurses and doctors, to judges.
But what was more revealing about Varadkar’s focus was the need he felt to respond on his Twitter account to a loose accusation from a member of the public that he benefitted from free food and drink at last Monday’s Kylie Minogue concert. Varadkar moved to deny he got free food and drink at the 3Arena in Dublin, having been branded a “spoilt brat”.
The Facebook post claimed the Taoiseach and his entourage, along with two undercover gardaí , were shown to a VIP bar at the venue where they had drinks and food. The post went on to say that Varadkar went to pay but was told that the drinks and food were ‘on the house’.
The user who uploaded the story to Facebook also took issue with the fact that Varadkar or his guests could not “find it in their hearts” to leave a tip for their server.
The Taoiseach responded by tweeting: “I’ve been made aware of a post on social media saying I had a free meal at a concert the other night. This is not true. There was no meal, we only had drinks and I paid. I have the receipt to prove it too.”
The accusatory post on Facebook was withdrawn and replaced by a grovelling mea culpa by Mr Pól Ó Muireadhaigh, who wrote: “Just to Clarify I was sent a Story about Leo Varadkar T.D. this morning and shared it in good faith. It now appears that it was Inaccurate and I really should have checked before sharing.”
That the Taoiseach felt the need to respond at all spoke volumes about where his head is at.
The tweet, along with the pictures of him and his entourage meeting Kylie Minogue, merely reinforced the ‘posh boy’ image, which McGuinness rightly said the party needs to be alert to.
Is it any wonder that Fine Gael saw a major drop in support among its traditional farming base, as reflected in a major opinion poll for this newspaper a while back?
Fine Gael recorded its lowest level of support among farmers in five years and now stands at 32%, a notable decrease on last year, when the party stood at 40%.
Nationally, Fine Gael remains the most popular party despite the major problems in health and housing.
Varadkar, to date, has been careless enough to lose two ministers in 18 months, including tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald. Notwithstanding that, by and large, he has been a lucky general who has enjoyed a prolonged political honeymoon — but sooner or later that luck will run out.
“Varadkar has a habit of throwing people under the bus in order to insulate himself from negative attention. Just ask Denis Naughten
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Murphy, confronted about his ‘posh boy’ tag, said his privileged background should not matter. Varadkar’s tweeted response to a claim on social media this week, meanwhile, spoke volumes about where his head is at.