Cúpla focal: Should the next taoiseach be able to speak Irish?

Having a grasp of ‘cúpla focal’ is advantage for a taoiseach

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times


For those who fancy a crack at the top job in Irish politics, having a grasp of the cúpla focal is not a requirement but a definite advantage.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar was spotted wearing a fáinne on his lapel on Wednesday, having taken an Irish examination and completed language courses at the Donegal Gaeltacht in recent years.

“It’s getting better but I’m far from fluent. I have just completed the Gaelchultúr Level 4 course for public and civil servants,” Mr Varadkar said.

Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Sean Kyne, a supporter of Mr Varadkar’s bid to lead Fine Gael and become Taoiseach, said the contender’s efforts as Gaelige were paying off.

“We were talking Irish last night at the dinner table in the Dáil restaurant. He’s after completing a course and had an exam yesterday. He was wearing the fáinne yesterday. That’s the first time I’ve seen it,” Mr Kyne said.


“He’s put a lot of effort in. He’s getting more confident.”

Mr Varadkar and Mr Kyne were joined at dinner by Minister of State for the Diaspora Joe McHugh, whose appointment as Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs in 2014 was controversial because he did not speak Irish. He subsequently immersed himself in the language.

Mr McHugh is also supporting Mr Varadkar.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar’s rival Minister for Housing Simon Coveney’s level of proficiency is described as “basic”, although he has taken some lessons and his children go to his local Gaelscoil in Cork.

A stutter blighted his teenage years and impacted on his enthusiasm for languages at school. The only pass subject he did was Irish.

“I remember breaking pencils under the desk in frustration when trying to read as Gaeilge in Irish class,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan in a 2010 interview.

He focused on French, finding it an easier language to manage with his stammer.

However, “ní bhíonn sé riamh ró-mhall” [it’s never too late].