“It’s a bit weird being the leader of a party at an election for the first time,” Leo Varadkar said.
Speaking as an aside to a local while leaving the CoWorx enterprise hub in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, the Taoiseach seemed in decent form. If he was feeling the after effects of the various crises that popped up on day one of the campaign, he wasn’t showing it.
“What do you need from central Government to make this a reality?” he asked of the assembled throng at the CoWorx site, who had just given him a spiel on developing the enterprise hub.
“We want you to remember us when you’re elected in four weeks’ time,” was the response form Frank Greene, chair of the local district development association.
Edgeworthstown needs a school, a bank, and an industrial hub to attract investment into the town is the gist.
The Taoiseach’s countenance suggested he’d do his best, while he vowed to return in November to open the town’s new library.
Longford as a county is something of an oddity in that it has both no Fine Gael TDs and also no Longford TDs. Mr Varadkar was in town to promote the Dáil chances of local councillor for Granard Micheal Carrigy, who hopes to amend that statistic.
Other celebrities were out to meet the Taoiseach also, with both MEP Maria Walsh and Westmeath representative Peter Burke in attendance.
“This is one of five counties in Ireland with no Fine Gael TD, so it’s very high up our target list. We have a top-class candidate in Micheal and I hope to see him in the Dáil in a couple of weeks,” Mr Varadkar said.
For someone generally credited as not being a natural flesh-presser, the Taoiseach is certainly doing his best, although a request for him to “stay on for the yoga” at Fabiani, a sort of café cum hairdresser cum fashion outlet in Longford Town, received no definitive response.
In both towns, the Fine Gael leader was on friendly ground, though there were mutterings of protest out on the streets on both occasions. “Is he doing autographs,” one man said breathlessly. “Nah, just photos,” replied another as a picture opportunity with a local primary school looking for a new building presented itself.
The Taoiseach seemed to respond positively to the well-wishing, and kept the political point-scoring to a minimum, even when asked about South Dublin Sinn Féin councillor
“I think that if somebody makes a remark that they regret, and they apologise, I think that should be accepted and in this case the apology has been made,” Mr Varadkar said.
He was more tone deaf when asked about the homelessness crisis, starting off well in describing the current situation as “totally unacceptable” and something that “brings shame on us all quite frankly”.
But then the urge to bait Fianna Fáil got the better of him when discretion was probably the better part of valour, saying it would be possible to “continue to invest in homeless services over the next five (years) but only if we keep the economy strong, only if we mind the public finances, and really we’re the only party that can do that”.