FG just can’t get ‘posh boy’ jibe out of its head

Irish Examiner - - Forum -

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

Pic­ture: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

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.


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