SHAUN CONNOLLY: Varadkar goes for gold in egg-on-your-face race

THE hypocrite now crash landing on the runway of cheap publicity is the delayed Leo Varadkar descending from Planet Pompous.

We return to young Leo’s tragedy once more: probably the cleverest man in the Cabinet, definitely the least street smart.

Where to begin with Leo’s verbal ramblings through the wilds of the MacGill summer school in Donegal? Ah, yes the Government jet.

In a sneering rebuke to that enemy of democracy, the free press, Varadkar felt it was all terribly vulgar for the media to be so exercised about trivialities, like how the jet, which costs €8,000 an hour to run, had been used and abused like a gold-plated flying taxi by ministers.

Clearly little Leo has grown-up considerably in the past two years, because who was that seizing on press revelations then Transport Minister Noel Dempsey had used the jet to whisk him from Dublin to Derry to attend the MacGill think-in in 2010? Oh, that’s right, it was Varadkar.

Eager to score easy points in opposition, Leo laid into Dempsey (with information provided by those awful, trash-obsessed newspapers), ridiculing the minister’s claim he could not get a commercial flight by smugly boasting he had flown to Donegal for €55. Well done Leo, aren’t you a clever little thing?

But how power has twisted his world view. Varadkar now believes ministers need to “stand-up” and seize back their private jet from the tyranny of the press.

“Politicians are not willing enough to stand up for themselves.The Government jet now carries ministers so rarely that the pilots now have to go on training flights with no passengers just to keep up their hours. To feed the lions, ministers travel out the night before for meetings in Luxembourg, stay in a hotel and lose most of the next day travelling home just to attend a two or three hour meeting.”

How awful, trapped in luxury hotels at the taxpayers expense like that — fetch the €8,000 an hour jet at once and let those damned lions go hungry Leo!

But then he does have form. Leo was being typically Leo during the run-up to the disastrously handled last budget, insisting everybody should splash out on a holiday afterwards as only ministers would feel real pain.

“Incomes will remain untouched. The only people whose pay is being cut are ministers and senior civil servants,” he announced, clearly fearful how he would manage to scrape-by on the measly €170,000 we stuff in his pockets each year.

Indeed, little Leo gets paid just about the same as British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Let’s examine their responsibilities: Cameron runs the world’s fifth largest economy, commands a nuclear strike force, and wields a veto at the United Nations Security Council.

Varadkar is, er, a Minister for Sport who does not actually like sport.

But then pay is a bit of a bug bear with Leo as another of the awful things Ireland’s petty-obsessed media do that annoys him is to point out Fine Gael’s nakedly cynical hypocrisy regarding the alleged “pay cap” they promised to impose.

If the pay cap fits then fine, but if you are a pal of the Taoiseach, or one of the numerous Fine Gael flunkies elevated to high office adviser status, the cap is suddenly elastic.

Indeed, so many of Enda’s mates and Blueshirt buddies are considered “exceptions” and deserving of far more than the alleged “pay cap” the process has been rendered offensive in the public mind. Funny how a cancer nurse struggling on the health service frontline is not considered “exceptional” like the Blueshirt backroom boys, but hey, that is the “New Politics” for you.

But we should not really be writing about any of that according to Leo, so forget I said anything. Indeed, Leo wants to impose a privacy law to further muzzle the press. Oh, of course he is not thinking of protecting the elite with this dubious endeavour, he wants it to safeguard the public.

Funny how politicians always claim they want privacy laws to help the little people whose lives few are interested in, never to protect their own privacy.

Varadkar’s “forget the budget, take a vacation” plea captured Leo’s conundrum well — academically brilliant, yet completely lacking in emotional intelligence.

I was on a radio show with him a while back when the famous host was away and replaced by a stand-in. During the ad break, Leo turned to the also well-known stand-in and said something to the effect of: “When’s the real talent getting back?”

He did not mean it in a nasty way, he just has an unfortunate manner with things like that, and the presenter, though clearly annoyed, pretended not to hear him even though they were only three feet apart. And while not normally known for my diplomatic skills, it was left to me to break the tension.

In my best faux-light hearted voice I said: “That might be considered a tad rude, Leo?” To which he huffed his shoulders and said: “Everybody knows I don’t have any people skills.”

So, in his world view, he was right even though he was in the wrong.

In that context the tourism minister urging people to go on holiday is perfectly logical to him — the problem was that by doing so he showed total ignorance of the financial fear and anxiety that now grips almost every family in this country who dwell in the Real World, also known as Planet Recession.

Which all marks him out as the closest thing the Cabinet has to a Vulcan — and is it merely a coincidence that he and Star Trek’s Spock are both doctors?

And, in an age of plastic politicians, there has often been something strangely likeable about Leo’s utter bluffness as he refuses to apologise for any offence he causes as long as he can justify it logically in that Vulcanesque way.

But that same bluffness is now beginning to irritate in a major way when he starts so casually musing on something as important as press freedom.

How unusual that a man demanding privacy laws sees no contradiction in allowing film crews to record him rooting around his pristine, but somehow soulless looking kitchen, searching for a ready-meal-for-one to put in the microwave.

Leo also has no qualms sharing his fears about carrying too much weight with the public — much like a royal bride worried about shedding enough pounds ahead of that big day at Westminster Abbey.

And he has lost quite a bit of weight lately, now it’s time to lose the hypocrisy. It is sad our sports minister does not like sport because if the egg-on-your-face-race was an Olympic event Leo would bring home gold.


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