The Amazing, Evolving Taoiseach

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Bit late to getting a Cork Irish Examiner membership so missed this moving piece from Alison O’Connor, another in the genre of ‘Area Man Becomes Taoiseach Before Onset of Middle Age‘. Once again, Varadkar’s simultaneously brash and introverted personality is to the fore.

I heard of someone meeting Varadkar at a function. To break the ice, the person said they were from near where some of Varadkar’s down-the-country relatives live. Now, this would be grasped as a golden opportunity for a typical Irish politician to break into a “seed, breed and generation” type of discussion. But the response from Leo? Dead air.

Now, this would be grasped as a rather tedious description of a man with poor social skills. Though one suspects Leo saves his more enthusiastic responses for King’s Hospital Old Boys.

Whereas Noel Whelan was aghast at the mere fact of Leo being young(ish), Alison O’Connor is also stunned by the fact that he actually continues to age.

That is the kernel of what is fascinating about him. He remains a work in progress. As he said himself, at his first Q&A with journalists, last Friday night, he is “evolving”.

Into a Charizard? Or just a slightly different, older version of himself? Like all humans everywhere since forever?

What is (especially) strange about O’Connor’s article is that she seems to be almost about to break into some sort of politically-informed criticisms of the new head of government but again and again is dragged back into her own silly trope of ‘maturity’. For example, Varadkar’s Iona-esque moralising against abortion is explained as an example of his childishness and underdeveloped political sophistication.

The conservative TD and medical doctor, as he was described at that time, in a report in this newspaper, went on to give a really good example of why his colleagues would have considered him immature.

Elaborating on the abortion question and the thousands of Irishwomen who travel to the UK for terminations each year, he resorted to the offensive flippancy that used to be one of his hallmarks. He essentially compared abortion to gambling and prostitution. It was rather a wow moment.

I’m not sure if this is immature or simply an unfiltered and accurate reflection of his own awful opinions. Moreover, O’Connor never states clearly whether her problem is with Leo being in favour of having Lucinda Creighton and Paul Bradford sit on the chests of pregnant women until their due date, or with expressing this opinion in an overly dismissive way. One would assume the former is worse than the latter, unless you’re a liberal whose primary concern is that politics remains a polite, convivial and orderly discussion between technocrats.

It’s always interesting to observe a new leader of the country, but it is impossible to say how anyone, despite their record, longevity, or even their consistency, will perform in that role.

This cretinous banality belongs in the introduction of an undergraduate essay.

The obvious question is whether there might be more maturing to be done, on the job.

The content of this ‘maturing’ is rather opaque. Though one suspects it consists of refining his rhetoric while maintaining and implementing his Thatcherite principles.

Of course, given the media enthusiasm for Leo Varadkar and his 21st Century Politics, we shouldn’t be surprised to find this same fervour reflected by the public.

Fine Gael 29% (+1)

Oh right yeah.

Noel Whelan Pens Ode to Youth

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In a week where certain sections of the UK commentariat seem to have convinced themselves that their own offspring are on the verge of joining the red guards and destroying the four olds (old customs, old culture, old habits and Nick Cohen), it’s good to see at least one of our own is willing to celebrate how the yoofs are changing up politics.

The most remarkable thing about the fact that Leo Varadkar will be elected taoiseach next week is not that he is gay or the son of an immigrant but that he is so young and that he has reached the highest political office in our system just 10 years after he first entered parliament.

Yes, it’s astonishing how someone who started from the lowly beginnings of wealthy child was able to reach the highest political office in the land. No doubt Noel Whelan would be equally impressed by wunderkinds such as Puyi, who managed to go from mewling infant to Emperor of China in less than two years. Really though, Whelan just can’t quite seem to wrap his head around the fact that Varadkar is young(ish)

At 38, he will be our youngest taoiseach ever and is almost three decades younger than his predecessor. Varadkar was born three years after Enda Kenny was first elected to Dáil Éireann. He will be the first child of the 1970s to become taoiseach; in fact born as he was in January 1979, he is almost a child of the 1980s.

Moreover, he was born two years after the Six Pistols’ appearance on the Bill Grundy show and almost ten years before the death of Klaus Fuchs. Noel is clearly very excited by all this. I’m not entirely sure why though. Perhaps he will elaborate?

He is the first of our senior politicians to be formed by the politics of the 21st-century.

Ah, I see. Could you elaborate on what exactly those are Noel?

The manner and pace with which Varadkar has come to the top job suggests he is highly organised, politically astute and ambitious not only for himself but in what he wants to achieve.

Yes, at no point anywhere in the article are Varadkar’s policies or politics ever mentioned, these being rather ancillary to the amazing fact that he is (kind of) young and ambitious in what he wants to achieve, whatever that may be. Nevertheless, we do get an insight into Leo’s meteoric rise to power.

Varadkar’s first politically precocious act was to run in the 1999 local elections when he was just 20 years of age. It was quite an electoral blooding. He polled just 380 first preferences as the party’s only candidate in the Mulhuddart electoral area, which was – and still is – very unfriendly territory for Fine Gael.

Mmkay.

When the local elections next came around in 2004 he ran in the Castleknock electoral area which is significantly more middle class and which was also the catchment for his father’s local GP practice.

Ah, here are those lowly beginnings.

As a rising star in Young Fine Gael he attracted a lot of young campaigners and a lot of financial support. There were no limits on local election spending at the time and the Varadkar campaign was as lavish as a general election effort.

This, I will remind you, is an article about the amazing and unprecedented rise of a precocious child prodigy who succeeded in spite of enjoying every imaginable advantage.

Such luck was only a small part of the story of his steady progress. He showed considerable political skill in being able to articulate public concerns (even criticisms) of the government while still being a prominent member of it.

Which is different to opportunistic hypocrisy due to many reasons, none of which I feel the need to mention.

He was also politically sophisticated in the manner in which he came out as gay to the public in January 2015. He chose his timing well, with the marriage equality referendum on the horizon. He also chose his medium well by doing it on radio in a lengthy personal profile with Miriam O Callaghan and by treating it in a matter of fact way. It was a carefully planned moment which managed to come across as authentic and unforced.

And yet the way you describe it, it almost comes across as crassly opportunistic. Still, at least we get an insight into Leo’s personality, which can best be described as confusing. Leo is ‘brash, bullish and a magnate for media coverage’ as well as ‘extraordinarily shy’, ‘quiet’ and ‘introverted.’ This then, is that rarest of creatures; Schrödinger’s Taoiseach. What then does the future hold for our new premier, who was born two decades after the moon landing and fourteen years before the release of the film ‘Alive’?

The first phase of the Varadkar premiership is likely to be fresh, energetic, structured and dramatic. It will need to be.

Okay, great. Honestly, I’d feel a little more reassured if he was also ‘in your face’, holistic and dynamic, but the poor kid’s barely out of nappies so I guess he still has plenty of time to develop those characteristics.