independent

Friday 20 October 2017

Taoiseach steps up and shows real leadership just in Time for hols

By david looby

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been lionised by the press so far.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been lionised by the press so far.

Leo the Lionheart emerged from his cerebral Mount Olympus last week as a leader capable of McGregoresque slapdowns, crowning a week which saw him featured on the cover of Time magazine, days after Coldplay's Chris Martin sang his praises in front of 80,000 people.

In the ignominious list of world leaders today, from al-Assad, to Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, to Vladimir Putin and worse still, Donald Trump, we, in Ireland, are fortunate to have someone who seems a) capable of rational, sensible discourse, b) is intelligent, c) knows how to have a laugh and d) is not willing to suffer fools gladly.

I met our new Taoiseach when he was a new minister. It was on a tall ship in Waterford in 2011 and even then his studied cool, breezy manner impressed. He seemed irrisible, centred, a bit aloof and brilliantly detached.

The sheer fact that the son of an Indian immigrant who came out as gay in 2015 is the leader of our country is extraordinary, revealing a quantum shift in Irish society from valley-of-the-squinting windows schadenfreude to a more open, inclusive nation where debate is fostered and a person's sexual orientation is not a bar to them excelling in whichever career path they chose.

And now a portrait photo of the Fine Gael leader graces the European edition cover along with the headline 'An island at the center of the world'.

Inside the magazine, Varadkar speaks at length to the journalist Jennifer Duggan about the threat Brexit poses to Ireland and how he plans to deal with US President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, Trump, showing all the leadership and charisma of an uncaged orangutan on Nespresso-infused Viagra, is roaming around European halls of power, like the proverbial diplomatic bull in a china shop.

His latest gaffe had him reprise his role of the family member who has to be invited to the party, even though you know he'll do or say something totally inappropriate. This time it was to French President Emmanuel Macron's wife Brigitte. 'You're in such good shape. She's in such good physical shape. Beautiful,' Trump told her, following a quick ogle as she was standing next to his wife. And the whole world did a collective palm face.

In each country he visits, Trump seems to emerge from underneath the gleaming new diplomatic bridges his predecessor built with the nation's leaders like King Kong and smashes them to pieces. Leo knows how to play the game - just look at his bromance with Canadian leader Justin Trudeau. Okay, the novelty socks gag was naff, but the smiles were genuine, unlike Enda Kenny who seemed to smile like a manipulated puppet.

It remains to be seen how Leo will fare with an unlikely coalition, but he has hit the ground running, steamrolling over Solidarity TD Paul Murphy in the process, rightly telling him that he owes a public apology to former tánaiste Joan Burton, her adviser and to the people who got caught up in the protests at Jobstown in 2014 of which he was a leader. He didn't mince his words, rightly saying: 'The protest was ugly. It was violent. It was nasty.'

Wexford People

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