A chat that barely scratched the sur­face... and a few fol­low- on ques­tions would’ve been good too, Ryan

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - MORE ON SUNDAY - Philip Nolan

There is, al­ways, a dan­ger in an in­ter­view with a politi­cian on what es­sen­tially is an en­ter­tain­ment show – not least for the politi­cian. A tightrope must be walked, and when the chat switches from the pub­lic to the per­sonal, the trick is to avoid sound­ing triv­ial. The world we live in has be­come po­larised to an ex­tent un­prece­dented in my life­time, and where once the myth­i­cal man in the street only could crit­i­cise a politi­cian pri­vately, it can now be done pub­licly, in the crud­est way imag­in­able, on so­cial me­dia.

That’s why, no mat­ter how much you dis­like the ac­tions of an in­di­vid­ual, it is hard not to feel grudg­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for any­one putting him­self or her­self out there to be held up to pub­lic op­pro­brium.

And so it proved on Fri­day night, when Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar went on The Late Late Show to talk about home­less­ness, the HSE, Brexit and, er, Kylie Minogue, and was kicked from here to Christ­mas on Twit­ter. If I were him, I cer­tainly wouldn’t have been up at the crack of dawn yes­ter­day to scroll through the com­ments.

Mr Varad­kar has some­thing of an im­age prob­lem. Whether through shy­ness or dif­fi­dence, he comes across as oddly un­em­pa­thetic at times, which is rather odd for a for­mer doctor who pre­sum­ably had to de­velop some­thing ap­prox­i­mat­ing to a bed­side man­ner in the for­mer day job.

Ryan Tubridy is a skilled in­ter­viewer and a pol­i­tics nerd, but he too is con­strained by a for­mat that forces him to move things along, and what that means is that dis­cus­sion sel­dom does more than scratch the sur­face. As you might ex­pect, the first sub­ject on the agenda was home­less­ness and af­ford­able hous­ing, the great­est twin-headed so­cial cri­sis the coun­try has faced this cen­tury.

The Taoiseach said we built 20,000 houses this year, the high­est num­ber since 2009, but the fol­low-up ques­tion – how many of those are so­cial houses? – was not asked. It al­lowed Leo to bat to touch the claim that Fine Gael is ide­o­log­i­cally op­posed to pro­vid­ing so­cial hous­ing, a view many of us har­bour.

He was on safer ground when asked his opin­ion of his fel­low party lead­ers, and while he was a lit­tle barbed, he was, over­all, com­pli­men­tary of Bren­dan Howlin, Micheál Mar­tin and Mary Lou McDon­ald, even though she called him ‘smug’. Maybe some­times there’s no point try­ing to re­fute the ob­vi­ous.

He was also asked about a tweet he sent out this week re­fut­ing a claim that he and his friends had en­joyed a free meal in the 3Arena be­fore Mon­day night’s Kylie Minogue con­cert, when in fact they only had drinks that he paid for. He has been sav­aged for re­spond­ing, but ac­tu­ally it is per­fectly un­der­stand­able. As he said, you can at­tack him, but not his friends, and I ac­tu­ally ad­mire him for stick­ing up for him­self. Some­times, it’s the lit­tle things that sting, es­pe­cially the per­sonal ones.

Where he re­ally came to life was when he was asked about his part­ner, Dr Matt Bar­rett, and the im­por­tance

The Late Late Show Ryan Tubridy only skimmed the sur­face with Leo Varad­kar – until they spoke about Dr Matt

of do­mes­tic sup­port and hav­ing some­one to con­fide in. Only then did we get a real sense of the man, and it would serve Mr Varad­kar a great deal bet­ter if he showed that side of him­self more of­ten.

What, though, if the only com­pany you had, day in and day out, was that of your part­ner, and you had to go up to three months with­out talk­ing to an­other hu­man be­ing? Wayne Adams and Cather­ine King live just like that, build­ing a float­ing farm in an iso­lated part of Canada they have dubbed Free­dom Cove. They fea­tured on Chan­nel 4’s World’s

Weird­est Homes, but their home wasn’t weird – it was fan­tas­ti­cal, a se­ries of in­ter­lock­ing struc­tures, in­clud­ing a light­house and a ball­room, mul­ti­ple green­houses and veg­etable patches.

Liv­ing com­pletely off grid, with elec­tric­ity sup­plied by so­lar pan­els, they were the pic­ture of hap­pi­ness. When they wanted a nice din­ner, Wayne opened a trap­door in the liv­ing room and sim­ply dropped a rod into the wa­ter while his dogs barked at the fish. It wouldn’t be for ev­ery­one, but it cer­tainly seemed idyl­lic.

Far less so was the Dubai home of 16-year-old YouTube star Rashed Bel­hasa, known to his fol­low­ers as MoneyKicks. The son of a bil­lion­aire prop­erty de­vel­oper, Rashed’s claim to in­ter­net fame is ex­cess – lim­ited edi­tion train­ers, sports cars wrapped in Louis Vuit­ton de­cals, vis­its by su­per­stars such as Mariah Carey and, dis­gust­ingly, a pri­vate zoo filled with over 500 an­i­mals, in­clud­ing li­ons, gi­raffes, tigers, ze­bras and bears.

While Rashed beamed a megawatt smile still re­tained by teenage braces, the an­i­mals looked ut­terly mis­er­able, and even had to be phys­i­cally ma­nip­u­lated by zookeep­ers to an­swer the most ba­sic calls of na­ture. The con­trast with the sim­plic­ity of life for the Cana­dian cou­ple, and their re­spect for the nat­u­ral world, could not have been starker.

Hu­man­ity in its most beau­ti­ful form also ap­peared in Walk­ing The

Walk, an RTÉ doc­u­men­tary about Fr Tony Coote. The south Dublin priest was di­ag­nosed with mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease last April, and by June it had pro­gressed sig­nif­i­cantly, leav­ing him wheelchair­bound. ‘It’s dif­fi­cult when you were six foot one and sud­denly just four foot,’ he said wryly.

Far from al­low­ing the con­di­tion beat him, Fr Coote took off on a char­ity walk from Done­gal to Kerry with the aid of vol­un­teers all along the route and it made for an in­spi­ra­tional hour of tele­vi­sion.

With all that’s wrong in our world, you of­ten have to re­mind your­self that peo­ple ba­si­cally are de­cent and kind, and none more so than Tony Coote him­self.

Re­ly­ing on a wicked sense of hu­mour in­stead of self-pity, and clearly draw­ing on his per­sonal faith, he showed what can be achieved when you ded­i­cate your­self fully to a task in hand. In that, there is a les­son for us all, not least the man who sat in the Late Late hot­seat on Fri­day.

World’s Weird­est Homes Cather­ine and Wayne are liv­ing off the grid, and lov­ing it

Walk­ing the Walk Fr Tony Coote’s ir­re­press­ible good hu­mour was in­spi­ra­tional

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