An appeal to the new Taoiseach

By Barry Lord

Congratulations Mr Varadkar, you are our new Taoiseach – the position you have coveted for so long.

You were the popular choice – not the popular public choice, but among your fellow party members. The bookies also had you down as favourite and as we know, the bookies are rarely wrong.

Your maiden speech was as polished as your suit was pressed. We were encouraged by some of the things you said. You talked about humility. You talked about fairness and opportunity for all of our citizens. In truth, these were the kind of soundbites that even a small child couldn’t fail to make a tea-time news headline out of.

But we listened and now hope you are sincere.  The few quips you included were well rehearsed and delivered with some panache, but you’re no Oliver Callan.

Leo Varadkar - will he bridge a growing gap between rich and poor in Ireland?
Leo Varadkar – will he bridge a growing gap between rich and poor in Ireland?

The press clearly wish you well. Watching coverage of your journey from minster of sports and leisure to minster of health and leading the Department of Social Protection before finally claiming the top job, reminded me of the evolution of Bambi.

You are the first openly gay man to lead our country in government but we are not trend setters in this regard. Iceland elected a gay woman, Johanna Sigurdardottir, as Prime Minister in 2009 and this week Serbia elected its first gay leader, so the world is moving on, as it should.

I know Ireland is a different matter. In a country where same sex activity was illegal until 1993, it is a triumph for the gay community that such a prominent member should attain the highest rank of public office. But what you do and how you act in office should define you, not your sexuality.

Your colleagues portray you as a steely-eyed, determined go-getter, always thoroughly briefed, never one to reach for your latest e-book when there is an important policy document to be assessed.

You portray yourself as a Macron-like centrist rather than the hard-line right winger many see you as. You say in this modern era of Irish politics, with the problems we face, there is no such thing as ‘left or right wing’.  In this respect, you could be right.

Regardless of our individual political allegiance, when it comes to issues such as poverty, greed and cruelty, we shouldn’t have to fall back on our party’s mantra. We should – and we do – react as any human being does in the face of injustice.

No-one is pretending that the job you have will be easy, but having now accepted the post, its times to earn your corn.

You could start by walking down Grafton Street- as I did – on Wednesday evening and view the consequences of our homeless crisis. Every second shop entrance I saw was somebody’s shelter for the night. For a second or two, I was reminded of watching the BBC’s Michael Buerk’s famous broadcasting of the famine in Ethiopia as a child. Yes, it hit home that hard.

The distance which television provides was not there. You couldn’t fail to sense the desperation before your eyes. And this is only one Dublin Street. There are plenty of others I could cite.

You may also wish to demonstrate that you are not enthralled to corporations who pay little taxes in this country, banks that hand over under-performing mortgages to vulture funds, canny property developers and a garda hierarchy seemingly beyond reproach.

You pledged to inspire hope. Does this mean turning the idea of a young couple owning their own home into a realistic prospect rather than an aspirational one? Does this mean a young person in Ireland can freely elect to stay in the country of their birth, work and raise a family rather than emigrate through financial necessity?

Will you show the same willingness to iron out these problems as you did trying to weed out supposed welfare cheats, at considerable expense to the public purse?  For these are the issues affecting the Ireland you are inheriting.
Over to you now, Taoiseach.

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