Simon Harris defends Leo Varadkar’s use of social media

Minister for Health says Taoiseach is a ‘breath of fresh air’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the Government jet last week. Photograph via Twitter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the Government jet last week. Photograph via Twitter


Minister for Health Simon Harris has defended the Taoiseach’s social media presence, saying he is trying to “be himself”.

“People never get to see politicians , they decide they know somebody based on what they read about them. With Leo Varadkar, I have never come across somebody who can consume so much information in terms of policy.

“If I gave him a 200-page report, he would be able to tell me what was on page 52 and what was in paragraph three,” said Mr Harris.

“I think he’s breath of fresh air and I think he really has the ability to change Ireland,” he said.

A photo of Mr Varadkar tweeted last week of himself on the Government jet received criticism on Twitter. He was also subject to a Twitter spat with LCD Soundsystem after a a band member claimed he walked away after raising his his views on abortion.

“I think he’s just trying to be himself ,” said Mr Harris. “ I think what he’s doing with social media; and he’s not the only leader of a country doing this...he’s showing people what his day is like so you’re seeing him in different places and seeing what his life is like.

“People used to criticise the previous Taoiseach for not communicating enough so sometimes you can’t win in this country. He’s trying give people an insight and talk directly to people which is one of the liberating things about social media,” he said.

Asked if Mr Varadkar was misguided in tweeting about being at concerts or his social life, Mr Harris joked:“It’s a new concept we’re trying out where you can actually be a politician and a normal person - you can like going to concerts or go running,” he said.

“There’s something really liberating for a politician like the Taoiseach be able to communicate directly with the people or to say here’s what I’m up to today,” he said.

Mr Harris took part in a wide-ranging Facebook Live interview with presenter and fashion designer Brendan Courtney.

Mr Harris said the biggest challenges the health system faces are a lack of capacity and a model that is no t fit for purpose.

“If we just continue increasing spending in health and don’t change the model, system or structure - the health system will not be sustainable,” he said.

Mr Harris said GPs are operating on a 40 year contract and need to look at what they can do in the community rather than the hospital for patients.

He defended the health care system, but acknowledged there are capacity issues for public patients.

“If you felt ill and turned up at emergency department you would wait a while - nobody would say ‘you don’t have private health care, go home’ like you would in the States,” he said,

“We do have a public health service - the issue is that capacity isn’t large enough so private health insurance patients get seen to quicker. They can skip queues because others can’t,” he said.

“I don’t think when the HSE was set up years ago anyone expected it to turn out to be as large and bureaucratic as it is. The system is too bureaucratic,” he said.

Mr Harris said he expects there will be a another trolley crisis this winter as reform of the health system will take several years.

“I don’t intend to mislead people, this winter is going to be very challenging. We are working on the GP contract and extra bed capacity and until new hospitals are built and beds are increased - there is a real restraint,” he said.

Mr Harris said there needs to be a version of the Fair Deal scheme for home help which he said is currently unregulated and varies from county to county.

He said a public consultation on a Home Help scheme received 2,500 submissions and a report will be published by the end of the year with plans for a statutory home care scheme in two year s time.

“We need to create a version of the Fair Deal scheme for home help, t won’t mirror it as people will not want Hiqa coming in to regulate your sitting room,” he said.

“It will be huge if we can get this right and it will take a huge burden off people,” he said.