The people behind Leo Varadkar's leadership victory

Bertie had his kitchen cabinet. Enda had ‘Big’ Phil Hogan and a silent but deadly Michael Noonan. And, if comments from Kate O’Connell are to be believed, Leo has an entire choir, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.

The people behind Leo Varadkar's leadership victory

While the new Taoiseach Varadkar’s name is up in lights after the official confirmation he is to become Fine Gael’s new leader, the reality is that the backing singers were just as important behind the scenes.

From the initial planning in the months — and, if you believe the rumours, years — leading up to the official commencement of the race 16 days ago to the “shock and awe” 48 hours start, shaping image to shaping policy, the Taoiseach-in-waiting was always supported by those closest to him.

Far from a one-man band, Mr Varadkar’s success lies just as much with his “choir boys” central to the campaign.

They may have been vilified by Ms O’Connell for “singing for their suppers”, but now the encore is being sought, which ones can expect to be dining out on the success they believe they concocted?


He was, as Mr Coveney’s combative supporter and Mr Murphy’s constituency rival Kate O’Connell remarked, the chief “choir boy” singing from the Varadkar hymn sheet.

And, now that the race is over, the new Taoiseach’s Fine Gael election campaign manager is set to benefit.

While the second term Dublin Bay South TD is currently a junior minister in the Department of Finance and has played a role in Ireland’s Brexit strategy, he is rumoured to expect promotion to Mr Varadkar’s new cabinet, with Mary Mitchell O’Connor’s jobs ministry mooted.

The TD was central to Mr Varadkar’s campaign strategy, speaking with parliamentary party members and officially distancing his candidate from calls by Noel Rock and others for Mr Kenny to quit.

Given the campaign difficulties between himself and Ms O’Connell, the constituency build-up to the next election will be watched intensely — an area once dominated by Mr Varadkar’s close friend and former Fine Gael TD, Lucinda Creighton.


Leo Varadkar with his press advisor Nick Miller at the launch of his policy document at Smock Alley , Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins
Leo Varadkar with his press advisor Nick Miller at the launch of his policy document at Smock Alley , Dublin. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Not just the eyes and ears of Mr Varadkar, but the mouth too.

A former journalist, Mr Miller has been a long-time spokesperson and wing-man for the incoming taoiseach.

After eight years in Fine Gael’s press office, he was promoted to become Mr Varadkar’s media spokesperson in the Department of Transport in 2011, beginning a close professional relationship that has benefited both substantially.

While Mr Varadkar is often chastised for his outspoken views, Mr Miller has a far more subtle approach.

Calm, intelligent and among Leinster House’s most natural political animals, he is well known as someone who is cordial with journalists without ever becoming too close, and for expertly managing Mr Varadkar’s image.

With his role in the media framing of the crushing first two days of the leadership campaign, it is widely expected Mr Miller will soon take up the mantle as the new taoiseach’s Government press secretary or an equally high but more personally suited title.

One of the top jobs in the dark, lie-littered world of spin land, in other words. Not that nice Nick would ever describe it like that, of course.


A name no Lenihan will ever fully forget, it was Mr Murphy who raised the issue of Brian Lenihan senior’s 1982 phone calls to then president Patrick Hillery seeking him not to dissolve the Dáil during a Questions and Answers TV programme during the 1990 presidential campaign.

The controversy ultimately did for the Fianna Fáil member’s Phoenix Park hopes, catapulting Mary Robinson to the Áras.

A former chair of Fine Gael’s powerful national executive, Mr Murphy has been a close confidante of Mr Varadkar since he was appointed as a “special adviser” when the now Taoiseach became transport minister in 2011.

While Mr Murphy was central to Fine Gael’s botched Gay Mitchell 2011 presidential campaign, unlike the failed candidate he remains among the party’s inner core.


Fine Gael senator Michael D’Arcy and Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe (right). Picture: Mary Browne
Fine Gael senator Michael D’Arcy and Fine Gael TD Paul Kehoe (right). Picture: Mary Browne

John Paul Phelan, Michael D’Arcy and a small number of others close to Mr Varadkar’s campaign may not be junior ministers just yet, but watch this space.

Having helped to marshal the (Fine Gael parliamentary party) masses with insistence of their sought-after leader’s X-factor status both will be eyeing junior ministry promotions.

And while the little matter of finding room for them in an already crowded “what about me” line of supporters stands in the way, don’t be surprised if both are soon rewarded alongside Kerry’s Brendan Griffin and others, while internal rivals are left to stew on the back benches.

Bringing some in and leaving others out, however, is never a comfortable move for a leader — particularly a new one still in need of support in a divided party and with Fianna Fáil watching with intent.

Heavy lies the crown, Leo. Heavy lies the crown.

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