Month: March 2024

Leo’s gone, in the wind.

He’s gone.

There was feverish media speculation of Wednesday morning that something big was going to happen in Dublin. The breathless anticipation of the ‘big’, an “earthquake” announcement spread across social media.

Yet Leo Varadkar had barely ended his statement when the camera cut away to the RTE studio and talk turned to who would take his job(s) as Prime Minister and leader of Fine Gael.


What was most extraordinary that morning was that no-one seemed to expect the Taoiseach might resign, or indeed that the resounding rejection of two referenda championed by the Government, wannabe Government Sinn Fein, and the entire progressive NGO symbiont would have any consequences. In the wake of that defeat, the progressive world seemed to shrug and move on. Nothing to see here.

Leo resigned for “reasons”. Personal and political. The personal seemed to be something something life being tough at the top. The political presumably that he would be a liability for Fine Gael in the upcoming local and European elections and for the coalition parties in the General Election that will be held sometime in the next twelve months.

Having to declare ‘I am not woke’ at a news conference in America was probably a low for Leo. It is unlikely he believed it would ever be necessary to explain himself. For he was once a political shining star.

Varadkar seamlessly progressed from Council to member of Parliament, building an impressive constituency base. On becoming Taoiseach Leo had never lost an election in his life. This was the ideal man. holding the promise of electoral success and restoration of Fine Gael fortunes that his predecessor Enda Kenny had let slip with an inconclusive election result and a minority Government limping along.

While Varadkar is often viewed as having heralded a more progressive Ireland over the past decade, in truth the heavy lifting had been already done by others. Taking over as Taoiseach in June 2017, in the wake of Trump and Brexit, Leo represented everything Ireland thought of itself in the world. Global, progressive, and firmly European.

Varadkar doubled down on Ireland as the global corporate tax haven of choice. His early tenure brought referenda on abortion and gay marriage. He vocally and practically supported the EU through Brexit, and joined La Francophonie – the French language based association of countries.

Yet in each of these are found ‘reasons’ why he is now gone.

Google ‘leprechaun economics’ to understand the fundamentals of how the Irish economy has benefited from being a global corporate tax haven of choice. This has resulted in healthy budget surpluses, talk of a national wealth fund, and apparent generosity to sending some Euros to favoured projects planned in Northern Ireland. The downside has been the hubris this enables, talking about a growing and successful economy while failing to make substantive progress in housing and health care.

The mix of the global and progressive saw referenda on abortion and gay marriage that gave Ireland its sense of having arrived in a modern progressive democracy. It also brought ideas of open borders and little barrier to migrants entering Ireland. Unwilling, and in any case unable, to support Ukraine militarily Ireland offered room for Ukrainian refugees. They came. So did many others.

Numbers of migrants in Ireland have swelled to a point where it has overwhelmed public services’ capacity to accommodate – administratively or practically. Attracted by liberal entry processes and generous benefits, the unwillingness, or inability, to reduce the scale of migration has created countrywide discontent among communities into which large numbers of migrants are suddenly placed. A country already with an acute shortage of housing, is being squeezed hard. Not without reason, the Government is blamed.

All that said, Varadkar might see his greatest triumph in Europe, even though it is also the foundation of his greatest failure.

Varadkar arriving as Taoiseach in the wake of Trump’s election as President of the United States and BREXIT!!!  Pressured on the issue of global tax and wishing to show he was a good European, having domestic issues that were irresolvable and with social progress delivering nothing more than a hug to Irish sense of self-regard, with that total lack of irony preserved for Irish Nationalism, Leo reached straight for the populist playbook and wrapped himself in the Irish tricolour.

With the EU he stoked the fire of a punishment Brexit on the UK. Leo deliberately raised the spectre of republican violence to the astonishment of Unionists who reasonably thought those days were over. Ireland became increasingly Anglophobic in public discourse. In Northern Ireland Leo’s deputy led a charge in alienating Unionists, ignoring the formalities of the Good Friday Agreement. Overall, Varadkar bought UK-Ireland relations to breaking point.

Of course, in his own defence, Varadkar might believe he achieved the paramount objective of Ireland’s place in the EU single market – socking it to neandertal unionists a bonus. The jury is still out. Nor is it his fault that the Conservative Government led by Theresa May was resolutely useless in negotiation and completely failed to push back on a first (always maximum) pitch from the EU.

It would be encouraging to believe that Varadkar is the latest casualty of the self-regarding global progressive that goes a step too far – the fall of Sturgeon should perhaps have sounded a warning; if it did, it went unheeded.

With less than a year of this Irish Government before a General Election all the issues it needed to address at the outset remain, with the added pressure of seemingly unrelenting migration creating added complications and challenges. A pending Hate Speech Bill seems an inadequate response to the issues impacting on the daily lives of the Irish voter.

Politics across Europe are in flux. While seeking to secure Ireland’s place in the EU and his own place among the leaders of the progressive world, he has left Ireland with all the top issues to address when he first entered the Taoiseach’s office in 2017. Ireland today is a smaller place. Leo leaves a smaller frame of public discourse with all the bitterness of a polarised country, the greatest divide being between the people and the politicians.

Varadkar’s relentless pursuit of self-interest, personal and national, was winning until it lost. Were it not for the British Government’s unrequited generosity of spirit Anglo-Irish relations would be in the dog-house. In Europe, Ireland is once again only one of 27 and while perhaps useful from time to time when dealing with the UK the dominant nations of the EU will return to regarding Ireland only as an afterthought.

The problem with selfishness is that in the end it only delivers for the one. And when it faces failure, no-one else is that there to give it a hug.

Leo is gone, and frankly no-one gives a damn.


This is a version of an article that was published online at THE CRITIC magazine.