It wasn’t Leo’s fault at all you see, this whole fuss about the leaking of confidential documents. The real issue is that when you’re madly popular and powerful (and a media darling to boot), all these hangers-on start to think you’re their friend, when you’re not. It’s the kind of problem other globetrotting celebs like Prince Harry – and maybe George Clooney – have all the time. Everyone knows this, he basically told the Dail last week.
It must be so difficult.
Then, when you pass on agreements your government has made to these friends, they start hyping your connection and get you into a whole lot of bother. Then you have to go into the Dáil and say they were never really your bestie. It’s a hard life, alright.
If this is the level of political discourse we’ve now reached in Ireland, I don’t know how much lower we can go.
As everyone now knows, in April 2019, Leo Varadkar, who was then Taoiseach, sent his friend Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, who was head of the National Association of GPs, a confidential document marked ‘not for circulation’. The document was an agreement which had been reached with a rival organisation, the Irish Medical Organisation.
The Village, who broke the story, posted screengrabs of some of the chats around the leaking of the confidential document. One of the comments which drew significant attention was when Dr Ó Tuathail said that Leo Varadkar who was then Taoiseach was “constantly pulling strings for him.”
Addressing this perception, and the controversy around the leak, Mr Varadkar made a statement to the Dáil on Tuesday of this week. It has to be said that while it was meant to be an apology, he didn’t look or sound a bit sorry.
He spent a fair bit of the time when he was meant to be apologising dismissing the notion that someone as important as the Fine Gael leader was friends with every Tom Dick and Maitiú.
“Sometimes people like to exaggerate the nature of their relationships to inflate their own influence or to claim to speak for a person that they don’t ,to claim to have greater access than they really have” he said.
“Friends and acquaintances and supporters may claim to be closer to you than they really are. And this is clearly a big part of this story. If we’re honest, most of us in this house are familiar with that phenomenon too,” he said, tone-deaf as to how smug and arrogant he sounded.
“I gave it to him because he was president of the NAGP not because he’s a friend of mine. I am not as close a friend as he has made out,” he also said. “We are not best mates.”
It is unbelievable that this is the stuff of our current Dáil debates. It’s more like what you’d hear in the playground, or comes up in your news feed about dim celebrity spats.
This wasn’t about favours for friends or the kind of golden circles us plebs imagine exist amongst the political elites then – it was just one of the many burdens you have to share when you’re the captain of the football team, or the most popular guy in the class. Or the Taoiseach and people want access to a sensitive state document.
The Tánaiste’s apology was mostly defence of his actions, though he did say that passing on the document in the way that he did was an error. At no time did he say that what he did he was wrong, however and that, to me, was telling.
He was asked by Catherine Connolly TD when he realised he had made an error in judgment, Mr Varadkar paused, and nervously laughed a little, before he said he didn’t know and that he didn’t think about it for months.
Similarly, he seemed discomfited by the question posed by Peadar Tóibín who asked if the Tánaiste had “ever leaked confidential, Cabinet information?” There was a significant pause before Mr Varadkar seemed to stammer “No, no, nothing of this nature.”
That a former Taoiseach and current Táiniste can't give a straight answer to this is shocking.
Leo is not fit for office.
Leo must go. pic.twitter.com/jhjXPnV2xF
— Peadar Tóibín (@Toibin1) November 3, 2020
Make of that what you will.
There’s an arrogance around politicians when they feel protected by the party and the system. In Leo Varadkar’s case, it’s been evident many times, not least when he flouted his own lockdown rules for a topless picnic with a bag of cans in Phoenix Park. Apart from Gript, he mostly had media cover for that ‘error of judgment’. No wonder he acts like he never needs to apologise.
Not that the other main parties are any better. This week, Sinn Féin are finding money resting in their bank accounts and Fianna Fáil are bust covering for Leo lest anyone remember the good old days of the Galway tent. It’s dispiriting how easily power seems to corrupt and how much everyone wants to be in the golden circle.
There is no evidence that Mr Varadkar gained personally or financially from leaking this document but the whole controversy is a stark reminder that, in Ireland, nothing seems to have changed in relation to the elitist circles which have long been a feature of politics and power in this country. Being friends – BFFs or not – with politicians seems to be how many taxpayer funded jobs and opportunities become available to so many people, and that’s just one example.
This country, like many others, has been tainted by insider politics since the foundation of the State. Too often it’s still a case of who you know and not what you know. That needs to change.