Former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s shirtless “picnic” in the Phoenix Park was given a mixed response from the public with some saying his privacy had been breached and others claiming he had made the country a “laughing stock”.
The Department of the Taoiseach received a stream of emails and letters about Leo Varadkar and his meeting with friends in the Phoenix Park in late May.
Mr Varadkar had been staying at the Steward’s Lodge on the Farmleigh House estate since March 30, records released under Freedom of Information show.
He has so far paid €2,950 for staying at the residence, including a single night stay on February 29.
Views on his Phoenix Park outing were evenly split with some supportive of Mr Varadkar saying he deserved some down-time. One email said the ex-Taoiseach should “take no notice of the haters”.
“Everyone seems to pick on the Taoiseach for what he’s done,” they wrote, “but nobody seems to question about all the other people in the park that day. After all, we’re all humans, stay safe and look after yourself.” Another wrote simply: “I hope you enjoyed your picnic. As did the rest of the country. Keep up the fight.”
One email said Mr Varadkar’s privacy had been invaded: “We are rightly annoyed by the media focus on private matters of the Taoiseach which are most unjustified and inappropriate.” Another said: “My husband and I think it is a good thing that you and your partner and friends were able to have some leisure time last Sunday.
“We are all trying to figure out how to have same in a safe way. I hope you can ignore the silly/over the top media controversy.”
In one email, comparisons were drawn with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying it would not have caused controversy in her country.
“All that BS about the park is ridiculous,” they said, “you’re human … was nice to see our Covid-times leader enjoying themselves and chilling out.” Another said it was “humbling” that the Taoiseach wanted to spend time in the park with friends saying he was “just like the rest of us”.
Not all were happy however, with one explaining how they had been moved on from a park by gardaí while simply sitting on a bench in the earlier part of the lockdown.
“Today I see a picture on RTÉ website, is it true?” they wrote, “if it is, get a statement issued that going out to sunbathe is OK and we don’t have to exercise.
I followed all the ads on radio and not once did I hear (it’s) OK to sunbathe in (the) park.
Another claimed the then Taoiseach should consider resigning because of his “disgraceful flouting of [the] draconian rules for lockdown and social distancing”.
One email said it was not “appropriate behaviour at this time” and that they found it “really distasteful and lacking in sensitivity”.
“He should also learn how to conduct himself with decorum in public,” they said, “and show respect for the privilege of his office and trust the Irish people put in him.” Another email said Mr Varadkar had showed “total disregard” and echoing the Dominic Cummings controversy in the U.K. said it suggested “rules don’t apply” to certain people.
One message said the then-Taoiseach should apologise and had made a “laughing stock” of Ireland.
“I have relations living in the U.K. who were shamefully trying to defend your actions, only out of loyalty to their native land, not you.”