Readers like you keep news free for everyone.

More than 5,000 readers have already pitched in to keep free access to The Journal.

For the price of one cup of coffee each week you can help keep paywalls away.

Support us today
Not now
Wednesday 27 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
# we can work it out
Day 1: Leo Varadkar says he's going to be the man to unite the country - but other TDs aren't so sure
Many opposition TDs said they found Varadkar to be a decent man, even if they fundamentally disagreed with his politics.
I think he is a decent man. I wish him well. I do not know him well though he and I once attended the same pilates class.

IT WAS ONE of the most unexpected lines to ever be uttered in the Dáil chamber during the election of a Taoiseach.

The chamber, the public gallery, the press gallery and Leo Varadkar’s family – who were seated in the ‘distinguished guests’ area – erupted in the laughter when Gerry Adams brought up his fitness class with the Fine Gael leader.

Varadkar later thanked him for “revealing our little secret”, adding that they had in fact attended the same pilates class on a number of occasions.

The image of the new Taoiseach and the Sinn Féin leader on their mats, stretching in the Oireachtas gym, may be a difficult one to shake off.

But, perhaps it could be taken as a sign of  things to come under Leo’s tenure? A Taoiseach who puts an end to Civil War politics, digs about the past …. who is willing to work (anything) out, even with longtime rivals.


That seemed to be a message that Varadkar wanted to convey anyway.

“While we will clash in this Dáil, I want to offer a genuine willingness to work together on matters… That applies to all parties,” he said.

The opposition was far from convinced, however.

The words “right-wing” and “Thatcherite” were bandied about – as voices from the far side of the chamber speculated he would be a Taoiseach who would divide rather than unite.

Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach

At 38, Leo Varadkar is the youngest Taoiseach to date. His predecessor, Enda Kenny, told the Dáil he was the man to lead a new generation.

Not everyone was convinced.

download (13)

“Maybe the Taoiseach-to-be should get to know Sinn Féin,” Adams offered.

“Leo Varadkar also has the opportunity to do the right thing… That means turning away from the politics of austerity and cuts in favour of investment in our people and the rebuilding of vital public services.
Leo Varadkar could be a Taoiseach who sees the level of homelessness and the state of our health services, including mental health services, and says, ‘No more, not on my watch’.

Laughter all round

There was plenty of humour and playful swipes from the opposition throughout the two-hour session that saw Varadkar elevated to the most senior job in Irish politics.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin got in a dig at Fine Gael’s Noel Rock – suggesting that perhaps Varadkar had started off on the right foot, by not having Rock nominate him. (Rock nominated Enda Kenny on four occasions last year, but later became one of the strongest voices to call for him to step down).

Taking aim at another Fine Gael backbencher,  Martin said he happened to agree with Kate O’Connell’s controversial assessment of Varadkar’s supporters as ‘choirboys’ lining up to back the new boss.

The Dublin TD’s comments, you may remember, landed her in hot water during the leadership contest.

To laughter, Martin said he shared her view of his rival party.

Fianna Fáil – in line with the deal they agreed last year to prop up the Fine Gael-led Government – abstained from yesterday’s vote.

A new Taoiseach

During the speeches, Enda Kenny was constantly whispering in Varadkar’s ear – perhaps passing on some last minute advice.

“Good luck to the last fella,” Mick Wallace chimed in from across the chamber – before the votes were cast and the result came in: 57 votes in favour, 50 votes against – Leo Varadkar was to be the new Taoiseach.

Rounds of applause ensued, as the chamber rose to its feet. Handshakes all round from his Cabinet (or those that hoped they would be in his Cabinet) and a notable friendly handshake from the man he defeated to take the top job – Simon Coveney.

In the blink of an eye there was a quick seat swap. Varadkar took the helm, as Kenny stepped aside.

New Taoiseach PA Wire / PA Images Leo Varadkar's partner Matthew Barrett at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin to see him receive his seal of office as Taoiseach from President Michael D Higgins. PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

But what will Varadkar be like in office?

Standing in the Dáil, with his beaming parents looking down upon him, Varadkar said the Government he would lead would neither be left or right, but one of the “new European centre”.

He added:

While others in the House might be obsessed with the political debates of the 1980s, I can assure them that I am not nor will my Government be – we will be focused on the solutions of the 21st Century and the future.

Varadkar said he would seek to build a “republic of opportunity” where “every citizen gets a fair go and has the opportunity to succeed”.

A right-wing Taoiseach? 

Many opposition TDs said they found Varadkar to be a decent man, even if they fundamentally disagreed with his politics.

“He won’t be anything other than the most right-wing Taoiseach this State has ever seen,” said Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, while Solidarity-PBP Ruth Coppinger said Varadkar was a ”hardliner for capitalism” and a representative for the “rich and the elite”.

Adams was another to say he is “too right wing”. No amount of “pilates, frappuccinos, skinny lattes, avocado mash and jogging” would change that, he insisted.

Coppinger urged Varadkar to reach deep down for his “socialist vein”, while the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan urged him to be more like his father, Ashok Varadkar, who recently admitted in an interview with The Irish Independent that he was a socialist at heart. Varadkar’s father looked particularly amused at this contribution.

Before Varadkar left the  chamber, an orderly queue formed to shake his hand.

Then, it was then out to the Plinth. Flanked by his party colleagues, the new Taoiseach emerged out into the sun, to a loud applause.

200 Leo Varadkar is elected Taoiseach_90514826

Before getting into his car to speed off to see President Michael D Higgins, he stopped to shake the hands of a few tourists who just happened upon the fanfare during their visit to the National Library.

After picking up his seal of office at the Áras, it was back to Government Buildings to dole out the good and bad news – who would be in Cabinet, and who would miss the cut?

Journalists waited by the stairs to see who they could spot heading down the ministerial corridor. Some – like veteran Michael Ring, who appeared certain he was heading for promotion – could not hide their excitement. Others – like Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who was demoted from Jobs and Enterprise – received less welcome news.

075 Leo Varadkar is elected Taoiseach_90514832

With the Cabinet reshuffled, Varadkar listed all the tasks that he wanted them to meet head on.

How the new leader and his dream team will perform? Only time will tell.

But Richard Boyd Barrett hit the nail on the head when he said that after all the drama of leadership contest and election, it’s time for the Government to get down to business.

What people want is hope, not hype. They want policies, not pantomime.

Now that the theatre is over, Varadkar has come out on top. But, this is where the hard work begins.

New ministers in Finance, Justice, Housing: This is Leo Varadkar’s Cabinet>

As it happened: Leo Varadkar elected Taoiseach>

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.