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Leo Varadkar shooting an election video in his constituency in Castleknock. Christina FInn
The campaign trail

Leo Varadkar grilled about lack of services for children, Phoenix Park and gout on his home turf

A few constituents in the Fine Gael stomping ground in Castleknock spoke about the new leader Simon Harris.

“YOU WERE A great Taoiseach. Sorry to see you step down” one of Leo Varadkar’s constituents said to him in Castleknock on Tuesday before telling the TD that he was “somewhat worried” about the changing of the guard. 

Following his departure and Simon Harris becoming Taoiseach support for Fine Gael has surged. 

But what does Varadkar make of the bounce in the polls and the talk of Fine Gael’s ‘new energy’ since he left the helm of the party. 

Varadkar said he doesn’t take it as a personal slight. 

“I think it is going well and there is good energy there. He is doing very well in communications, both internal external communication, so it’s going well.

“I can think back to when I took over from Enda Kenny, a lot of things Simon’s doing now as Taoiseach, I would have done too,” said Varadkar stating that Harris is putting his own stamp on the job.

“It’s wrong to take any slogan or any policy change as somehow a personal criticism. Every leader has to do their own thing,” he told The Journal. 

He spoke about Harris having brought new energy to the party and also pointed to when he became leader back in 2017 and how the party also got a boost in the polls. 

Changing of the guard

The changing of the guard was raised with Varadkar for a second time by a constituent on the Tuesday afternoon canvas with Fine Gael Councillor Ted Leddy, who is seeking re-election. 

“I find it hard to take him seriously,” one older man who lived in the leafy Castleknock areas said to The Journal when asked about the new party leader.

“He is a nice young fella. He is young,” the man said about Harris, who proclaimed that he and his wife are “Fine Gaelers”. 

“I need your doctor skills,” the constituent said to the former Taoiseach before he left his doorstep, telling him he had a case of gout.

Varadkar went through what medication he was taking for it, before the conversation moved to access and parking in Phoenix Park. 

Varadkar said it is a “big issue”, stating that he has raised it with Minister for the Office of Public Works (OPW) Kieran O’Donnell.

As the car parks are “too remote from the main road”, there has been a drop off in the number of people using the park locally, Varadkar told The Journal.

“We are working on two possibilities. One would be on-street parking for a section on the main road on one side maybe, or a new car park off the main road,” he said.  

On-street parking would be preferable as it is cheaper, Varadkar added. 

“We are trying to convince the OPW on that but they won’t accept that there is a huge number of people not using the park and that is a real shame,” said the Dublin West TD. 

“Thank you for all your hard work over the years,” said the woman as Varadkar walked on to the next house in the Fine Gael stomping ground.

Varadkar got a warm welcome on the doors, though that is no surprise as he before moving to the city centre, he lived just a stones throw away and grew up in the area.

Though people on Tuesday afternoon were surprised to see the former Taoiseach standing before them. 


Up to FG to keep their supporters

When he arrived at the door of another couple they told him they would usually class themselves as Fine Gael voters. But they had some concerns they wanted to air. 

They raised the issue of how the free school book scheme was not extended to those in fee paying schools. The woman said they had taken out loans to send their children to private school and did not have excess money. 

“We are just finding it hard, there is a lot going out and very little coming in,” she said. 

“We are both working, middle income earners, with a high mortgage,” said the woman, before she said she had serious concerns about the treatment of children by the government right now. 

She criticised dental care and mental health services for children in particular. 

“There is just very little for children with any sort of psychological need, there is just nothing available publicly. We are paying a lot of taxes,” she told Varadkar.

“I just think children in general are very badly treated by the government, none of the services are up to scratch,” she said, adding that there is no community level services for children with general anxiety. 

“Children are quite neglected at the moment in general,” she said, before her husband jibbed in to tell Varadkar: 

Generally, we describe ourselves as the squeezed middle and we see Fine Gael as the party that should represent us, that naturally kind of fits.But it is up to Fine Gael to prove that on an ongoing basis.

In response, Varadkar said he believed the free school books scheme should extend to private schools, stating: “We didn’t win that argument internally in the government.” 

“I went to a fee paying school myself. My parents would have made sacrifices to afford to send us to a fee paying school, it wasn’t like we were enormously wealthy or anything,” he added. 

On mental health services for children, he said getting staff is a problem, before acknowledging to the couple: “It is not where it needs to be.”

Before saying goodbye, the woman said: 

“We do tend to vote your way, it is just we would like to know there is a bit more support from our point of view.”

The husband said: “As the country shifts and there are more extreme views, it becomes more difficult to talk about representing people who have a home or who have a kid in private school, Fine Gael are brave enough to say those things.”

Along the canvas, Varadkar was quick to promote Regina Doherty, urging people to vote for her in the European elections in the Dublin constituency.

He described her as impressive when she was a minister in Cabinet.

The Fine Gael odds 

One constituent said he had looked up the odds on Fine Gael in the European elections, stating that they looked quite good. 

“Yeah, I did actually put down some bets,” Varadkar responded. 

“I think we will get one in each of the three [constituencies] and hopefully Nina Carberry or John Mullins might get a fourth with transfers,” said Varadkar. 

The man said Fine Gael would get his vote before stating that he was glad to see a fall in Sinn Féin support in the polls. 

He said he felt a “little more confident now seeing the polls”, adding that he believed that Sinn Féin has been given a “free ride” for the last number of years. 

“Hopefully people are starting to cop on to the fact there is nothing behind it all with Sinn Féin,” the man added. 

Varadkar said he found the slip in the polls for Sinn Féin “quite interesting” stating that he believed that they had been getting the votes of left-wing liberals for a time as well some right-wing people.

“I knew that would fall apart sooner or later, but it has fallen apart sooner than I thought and a lot of their supporters have gone to right-wing independents or have gone to parties like the Social Democrats. I figured that would happen. I just didn’t think it would happen as soon as it has,” he told The Journal. 

The constituent went on to ask Varadkar about a recent Instagram video he had seen where abuse was being hurled at the former Taoiseach.

“There are still credible death threats,” Varadkar confirmed, before the man said abuse of politicians seems to have got “very coarse”. Leddy said he has received no abuse on the doors, stating that it is the online ‘activists’ that are the issue. 

Among the other issues raised on the canvas were road congestion, cars being broken into in the area as well as the threatened closure of a nearby childcare centre, with a number of people stating they only had “minor” issues of concern and were “very lucky”. 

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