Can choirboy Leo mix it with the sopranos?

Article by: Miriam Lord in Irish Times 28th. September, this is the nonsense that goes on while “Rome” continues to burn!.  What debate goes into our Pension Restoration, – answer NONE!

Benjamin Franklin or Roy Keane. Take your pick.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail, said one. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, said the other.

You don’t have to tell Leo Varadkar that. He didn’t become Taoiseach by not doing his homework. His campaign for the Fine Gael leadership was carefully constructed from a long way out, and when the time came to make his move, he was so prepped and scripted he left his rival for dead at the starting blocks.

Nothing left to chance.

So it’s a bit rich when he rounds upon an articulate and able political opponent for being well prepared and ready for battle. And more than a little petty when he sneers at her for having a script while putting in her usual strong performance at Leaders’ Questions.

What did Leo have in front of him on his desk? Music sheets for the Fine Gael sing-song at that night’s parliamentary party meeting? Style tips for happening young prime ministers? The latest gossipy letter from his Canadian pen pal, Justin?

Mary Lou McDonald came into the Dáil yesterday all geared up to deliver some punchy lines about bailed-out banks, now in healthy profit, being exempt from corporation tax for the next 20 years due to losses accumulated during the crisis.

As her colleague Pearse Doherty had extracted this from AIB’s boss at an Oireachtas committee the previous day, her subject for Leaders’ Questions came as no surprise. Leo arrived well briefed.

‘Zip, zero, zilch’

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader is seldom lost for a word, scripted or otherwise. There was plenty of meat for reporters when she noted that AIB will be paying “zip, zero, zilch” in taxes.

That sort of thing drives people mad. None more so than Leo’s beloved People Who Get Up Early in the Morning and may or may not eat their dinner in the middle of the day.

That money from AIB and the rest of the banks would work wonders for our cash-strapped public services, suggested McDonald. “Is it any wonder that we have a tight fiscal space?” And even if the Government is intent on getting the national finances on an even keel in the budget, Mary Lou reckoned letting the banks off tax on profits is “a very strange way to go about balancing the books.”

She finished with a swipe at the Taoiseach’s favourite phrase – it’s too hard to resist really, the Fianna Fáil leader had a go at it in his contribution – by calling Leo’s Republic of Opportunity a sham.

But the Taoiseach had facts and figures at his fingertips to mount his counterargument. Although his argument wasn’t as quotable or digestible as Mary Lou’s.

So the man who has just added another PR layer to the Government makeover machine by establishing a strategic communications unit took a gratuitous dig at her style of presentation in order to sex up his own.

“I wish to compliment Deputy McDonald on the flawless delivery of your script,” he began, as she looked askance. “Pauses, intonation and everything was absolutely perfect as always,” smarmed Leo, voice dripping with sarcasm as he made shapes with his hands in the air. Words clearly spoken by a fella who probably doesn’t have a single mirror in his house.

Perhaps the Taoiseach might look around at his own troops as they mumble their way through supplied scripts, giving the impression that if an adviser shoved the TV listings into their hands on the way into the chamber they would read them out from start to finish without noticing.

But back to Mary Lou’s question about the banks, which Leo didn’t answer.

She wasn’t happy with his second- round answer, and heckled him through it. This is what happens in the Dáil and the new Taoiseach doesn’t like it. Almost every day since he got the job he has whinged about Opposition TDs not having the courtesy to let him reply.

But Sinn Féin in particular – and they do a nice line in self-righteous interrupting – really get on Leo’s goat. Party members’ habit of goading him show Sinn Féin’s “innate contempt for democracy and free speech” declared the Taoiseach, concluding that it indicated “the kind of democracy we’d get if Sinn Féin got into power”.

Mary Lou threw her eyes to heaven and gave him withering looks over her spectacles.

The two had a second spat later, this time on Northern Ireland when the Taoiseach said Sinn Féin should compromise in order to restore the Executive.

Cue more interventions from McDonald.

“The only time you’re not scripted is when you’re interrupting, which is an interesting point,” he shrugged.

“The Taoiseach is so clever he doesn’t need a script,” she shot back.

All knockabout fun, but did the Taoiseach have to behave like he was at a university debate? The upside for him, though, is that the questions about the banks paying their taxes were forgotten in the drama.

Although, having also crossed swords with Ruth Coppinger and Claire Daly, some said he seemed condescending and irritable with these women politicians. Not a good image for a Taoiseach who was described by one of his TDs during the leadership campaign as head of a group of cocky Fine Gael choirboys.

Leo would want to watch out.

He won’t want to become known as the leading choirboy who can’t mix it with a few sopranos.

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