By Patrick Brogan
Last week, I wrote an article about Simon Coveney. This went into detail about his youth as part of a political dynasty, his record as a minister in various departments and what his stewardship of Ireland may look like. Now, it’s Leo Varadkar’s turn.
So, what is there to say about Leo Varadkar? Quite a lot, actually. In this article, we will look into his background, his ministerial record, the media reaction to the man and his political ideology.
Unlike his party leader rival, Leo Varadkar was not born into a political heavyweight family. He did grow up in an environment most people will not come close to. His father was an Indian doctor and his mother a nurse when they met in England. They moved to Ireland to raise their three children here. Varadkar was privately educated at The King’s Hospital School in Palmerstown in Dublin. Not too shabby, eh? It’s hardly Eton, but it does bring up the possibility that he is disconnected from many ordinary Irish families.
He went on to study medicine like his father before him. It was while studying at Trinity that he became politically active, joining the youth branch of Fine Gael. Leo Varadkar’s rise to the top of the political tree has been nothing short of remarkable. He is often compared to Emmanuel Macron, and this is a trait the two share. They both are described as a charismatic and seem to have been fast-tracked through the normally dull and grinding process to get to the top. In our article about Macron, we hinted that somebody is pulling the strings to put him in power. Could somebody be doing the same for Varadkar?
The Washington Ireland Program[me]
I never heard of this until researching this article and it probably deserves an article in itself. So, what is it? Well, it was set up to bring about better relations between the north and south of the island. I’m not totally sure what the criteria are, but 30 students are chosen to take part every year. Judging from their CVs, these are the brightest brains around. Very impressive. A young Leo Varadkar also took part in this programme.
Looking at the board and the people running this organisation troubles me slightly. Although many are practitioners of law, Susan Hoffman, for example, others specialise in lobbying; Carmel Martin, and many are linked to universities and colleges here; like Duncan Morrow and Roger G.H. Downer, but for the most part the board are members of big business like the Chair Jim Carroll (Accenture), Vice Chair David Gavaghan (Aurora Prime Real Estate), Eugene Hillery (Tableau Software) and so on. Even the members of universities and NGOs have some connection to businesses. Clearly, businesses are taking the best students abroad to influence their thought process later on down the line when these people become more influential. This is an environment Varadkar shared. When business influences politicians it usually means mass privatisation.
Screenshot of the Washington Ireland Programme website
I know most of you will probably just glance over those names and then forget them. I only wrote them a few minutes ago and can’t recall them. One name I hope you take away is this; Bryan Patten. Mr Patten is the Executive Director. He also set up Bridge21. This “is an education programme based in Trinity College, Dublin. We offer a new model of learning, that can be adapted for use in Irish secondary schools.” It’s important to know who sponsors Bridge21. All the big boys; Google, Microsoft, Intel, Western Union, Barclays, etc. Now, we have an organisation that is backed by big businesses trying to influence education. I think alarms bells should be going off right now.
If not, maybe this will convince you. I had an experience like this myself in Austria last summer. The company we volunteered for taught English all over the country. It was backed by many of these same companies. While we were over there I noticed we taught English in a very different way to the normal TEFL system. Long story short, the way we structured the class was a mixture of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den. Everything was focused on setting a business environment. There is nothing wrong with this if everybody is aware of it. But, this was done by stealth. When some of us asked the head teachers about this they denied it saying it was a non-profit organisation passionate about providing English. It was quite evident what was going on and I wonder if the parents knew it was geared more towards business English then normal English would they have changed their minds about sending their children there.
The Clinton Connection
The Clintons are all over the Washington Ireland Programme (WIP). In fact, as part of the programme, the lucky 30 got internships with Capitol Hill senators like Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary herself. Obviously, this was a few years back and the site still hasn’t been updated in this area. Companies like Eli Lilly contribute to the Clinton Foundation and sponsor WIP. Earlier, the name Carmel Martin was mentioned. Well, she is the Executive Vice President of Policy at a group called Centre for American Progress. This was founded by John Podesta, you know, the omnishambles in charge of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He still sits on the board of directors.
So, although Leo might not have a surname from the political aristocracy, he rubbed shoulders with those that have in Washington and the biggest names in business, too. He may have been exposed to the idea that everything, including education, is better off privatised and handed over to the business elite to control. Certainly, these are very influential people and these connections may have speeded up his political ascent.
While he held the position of Deputy Mayor of Fingal County Council it was wasn’t unsurprisingly until he got elected to the Dáil in 2007 that he came to national attention. He held a number of spokesperson roles when Fine Gael was in opposition. In 2011, Leo Varadkar became Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when Fine Gael became the majority party in government. Varadkar was the youngest member of this Government and had only been first elected to the Dáil just four years previously. In 2014, he became Minister for Health, a position he held until 2016. Then, after the last election, he became Minister for Social Protection.
On the Fine Gael website, his record looks very formidable. “As Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport he led a number of bold initiatives, including The Gathering: the largest and most successful tourism initiative ever held in Ireland. He took the decision to link up Dublin’s heavy and light rail commuter network through the Luas Cross City project; open up more bus routes to competition; further develop the National Sport Campus; and grant independence for Shannon Airport. He also developed a new Road Safety Strategy and a National Ports Policy.” If we scratch the surface we see a different story.
His fans and supporters say Varadkar speaks his mind and it is refreshing. His critics say he is gaffe prone. Here are just a few of his controversial remarks. Before he even took office he suggested that unemployed migrants here should be paid to go home. Regardless of your stance on immigration, this is a really bad idea. If you’re pro-immigration it looks like a form of ethnic cleansing. If you’re against it, it encourages people to come here and not work and then get a big payday. When it was pointed out by a Fianna Fáil TD that this similar to a British National Party strategy Varadkar replied it isn’t that different to what the Tories were doing.
In May 2011, he suffered the ire of Enda and co when he suggested Ireland would need another bailout. It was feared that this would affect the markets. This goes against what he said before the Fine Gael-Labour Government was elected when he said the banks would not get another cent. Where does he think the bailout money goes if not to banks? Also, as somebody who never held a ministerial position before, it comes across as slightly arrogant that he appoints himself as the one to say what the stance will be on future bailouts and how to tackle the issue of banking capital. Anyway, view it for yourself;
Then he found himself in hot water when he criticised the Irish tourism industry saying it was a rip-off and other countries offered much more for your money’s worth. For once, I would be inclined to agree with him.
He was accused of walking away from the health service. This would be understandable if that was the case as health was a mess during his time there. To be fair, it should be pointed out that the health portfolio in Ireland has been a nightmare for a long time now. Brian Cowen described it as Angola at the end of the last century. Also, his successor, Simon Harris, hasn’t been much better. However, during his tenure, many issues got visibly worse, like hospital waiting lists. He was only there two years and maybe he couldn’t implement policies in that time to fix the various problems, but many believed he ran away from the challenge and as a former doctor, this would be doubly as bad because this should be his area of expertise.
This campaign has been described as a cult of personality. The second coming is upon us. It has been said that he makes his challenger look boring. An Irish Independent article told us he was the “man-of-the-moment” and “in possession of much passion and punch, charisma and boyish charm…Leo makes Simon seem as dull as the proverbial dishwater.” Well, we all know who Denis O’Brien wants to win. Someone pass me a bucket, I find this level of fawning nauseating. This is meant to be a serious publication interviewing the potential future leader of the country. Should they not give him a bit of a grilling?
Indeed, this seems to be a theme across the media in this country. Leo is a man of the people, a charismatic leader. Sorry, this is not Russell Brand we are talking about here. In fact, it is difficult to find negative articles on Varadkar online unless you already know what you should be looking for. The closest I could get to a list of his gaffes was this article, which of course is not an Irish publication.
Not Trusted in His Own Party
Despite media reports saying he was running away with this contest, there is enough evidence to say he is not trusted within the party. While I assume most people would say no politician should be trusted, it is rare that they come out publically and criticise each other. In an Irish Times article about Simon Harris, Paul Cullen wrote; “The other thing to know about Harris is that is he is Fine Gael “through and through”, unlike Leo Varadkar, who is regarded with suspicion by the blue-blooded wing of the party. He can, therefore, be expected to toe the party line faithfully and is unlikely to come out with the kind of off-message comments that are the hallmark of Varadkar.” James Reilly has also said he is out for himself.
King Leo with a crown made up of his own face. God, he would love that.
Leo is often described as a Thatcherite and for good reason. He wants to stamp out union strikes and once claimed that his spending cuts would make “The Iron Lady” herself look like an amateur. We got a taste of this already when he cut funding to mental health services. He wants a clampdown on social welfare fraud and got his message across by presenting dubious figures. Maybe he should focus on banking fraud as this is costing the nation billions. Varadkar kept flogging the dead horse that is Irish Water by saying cancelling charges was a mistake. Not exactly democratic is it, given the anti-Irish Water protests were some of the biggest in the State’s history.
In 2010, he compared Irish women travelling abroad for abortion to recreational travel; “People travel overseas to do things overseas that aren’t legal in Ireland all the time. You know, are we going to stop people going to Las Vegas? Are we going to stop people going to Amsterdam? There are things that are illegal in Ireland and we don’t prevent people from travelling overseas to avail of them.” Comparing abortion to a few spliffs in Amsterdam was a new low in the debate to repeal the eight amendment.
Leo Varadkar once told the Sunday Business Post he was “true blue Fine Gael.” Now, this can be put down to a turn of phrase for anyone else, but when they are a member of Fine Gael it takes on a different dimension. I was criticised for calling Fine Gael the fascist party of Ireland in the Coveney article, but that’s exactly what they are. Cumann na Gaedheal and the Centre Party formed an alliance with Eoin O’Duffy and his Blueshirts and Fine Gael was born. The Blueshirts, of course, took their name and ideology from the various fascist movements sweeping across Europe at that time. The Blueshirts were also influential in the early days of the Irish police force, An Garda Síochána, which explains a lot.
Eoin O’Duffy, after being sacked as police commissioner, travelled to Spain with hundreds of other Blueshirts to fight on the side of fascist Franco in the civil war. The Franco regime carried out thousands upon thousands of atrocities both during the war and when they took power after it.
To Sum Up
Leo Varadkar clearly isn’t a man of the people. Repeatedly he has shown that he is flying solo and doesn’t consider the needs of his party and, more importantly, the people he is supposed to represent. It was the people of Dublin 15 and the health service. Soon it could be the entire country. His tendency towards Thatcherism and fascist supporters bodes ill for ordinary people. Everything will be privatised with the rich creaming the profits. Although I was critical of Simon Coveney, I believe he would make a better leader than Varadkar. Both men are career driven politicians and at various times they both have left the needs of the most vulnerable in society behind. However, Coveney is more competent and seems to be less ego driven than Varadkar. I shudder to think what damage Varadkar could do to society if given the reins of power.
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