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Opinion Will Leo survive the Department of Health curse?

The newly-crowned Minister for Health’s role could be the making or breaking for one of politics’ rapidly rising stars.

HE IS A slick and polished performer, with aspirations to land the number one job. So it is likely Leo Varadkar’s political opponents were only too glad to see the young gun being handed a position that was once described as ‘Angola’ due the fact it was littered with landmines.

The establishment is never too fond of outspoken upstarts blazing a trail and making the rest look like old political fossils. It must have always irked Enda Kenny that while he can come across like a gombeen man in front of the cameras, Leo always looks cool, confident and calculated. However, it appears government ranks have now closed around this young buck and given him a one-way ticket to the slaughterhouse.

Surely Leo got the whiff something was up when he walked along the corridors inside the Department of Health and felt the eerie presence of the carcasses of former Ministers hanging from the rafters.

James Reilly left Health battered and bruised, while the dreaded department not only took Mary Harney’s career but also saw her party implode and disappear without a trace.

Sadly, Leo is unlikely to escape the curse.

Landmines and booby traps 

He has a wonderful bedside manner but the patient he is trying to treat is far too sick to be revived. This is because the system that surrounds this ‘patient’ is rotten to the core.

Style over substance can only get you so far, and entering Angola Leo will be faced with landmines aplenty. And these booby traps will have been laying in wait ever since his appointment was announced.

Ministers come and go, but the career civil servants that run the show are permanent fixtures. If Leo was an unknown he may have had a chance, but his profile and outspoken manner will ensure the knives will have been out for him from the get-go.

When the first mine blows up in his face, the new Minister will rightly turn around and ask, “Why didn’t I know about this?” Shoulders will shrug and the collective response will be, “Because you didn’t ask.”

For his sake, I hope the Minister for Health bought the box set of Yes Minister and studied Sir Humphries subterfuge, because he is about to play the lead role in a very similar satirical sitcom.

A masterstroke by Kenny?

The fact is, however, Leo is unlikely to survive. The Government has finally regained control of the country and waved goodbye (and most likely good riddance) to the Troika. Fine Gael and Labour will now be paving the way for the next election, and the battles they will no doubt fight could see the end of the Government before its term is complete.

So tying up and locking one of the country’s highest profile ministers in a pair of handcuffs and pushing him off his political perch into the Department of Health was a masterstroke by Enda Kenny. Because Enda and his advisors know that while Leo has many qualities, being a political Houdini is unlikely to be one of them.

Paul Allen is managing director of Paul Allen and Associates PR. Follow his blog:

Varadkar: I don’t know if I’ll be able to turn the poison chalice into sweet wine

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