Leo the peacemaker

Thu, Sep 12, 2013, 01:00

Leo Varadkar is no stranger to straight talking or personal ambition. Both traits have landed the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in trouble with his colleagues and, in particular, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. He was a prominent figure in the group that sought to remove Mr Kenny as party leader in 2010. Appointed Minister, he infuriated colleagues by going outside his brief and suggesting Ireland might need a second bailout. Now, he favours restoration of the party whip to those who voted against abortion legislation. It raises his profile as a potential leader.

The expelled members retain core support within Fine Gael. And while Mr Varadkar dismisses the likelihood of a new party being formed, that option is under active review by those who believe they will never again be ratified as Fine Gael candidates. Mr Kenny declared that rebel members could not stand for the party. But Mr Varadkar has suggested that positions adopted in the heat of the moment should be reviewed, noting the importance of their support for the coming Budget. Will Mr Kenny listen?

The Minister for Transport has competing concerns. Drivers at Dublin Bus have consistently refused to accept Labour Court recommendations and may resume strike action at any time. Time is running out and Mr Varadkar has raised the prospect of new public transport arrangements. Strike action and commuter disruption, complicated by efforts to introduce alternative bus services, would bring criticism from Opposition parties and cause friction with the Labour Party. In those circumstances, he would have to depend on unwavering support from within his own party.

The Fine Gael Ardfheis, which takes place a few days before the next instalment of cutbacks in October, could offer an opportunity for reconciliation with party dissidents or, alternatively, lead to a terminal rupture. Whatever happens, Mr Varadkar’s standing within the party is likely to be enhanced, either as a willing peacemaker or as a long-term strategist.