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Varadkar takes Trump line on the media

Inside Politics: Taoiseach’s ill-judged comments see him claim the focus of political reportage is on gossip

Good morning.

Not for the first time, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has spoiled a trip to the United States by making ill-judged comments that raise wider questions about his leadership.

At the St Patrick’s Day events in Washington, Varadkar tried to ingratiate himself with Donald Trump by saying he “ tried to do what I could do “ to help with the president’s Doonbeg resort while minister for transport.

Now, during a trip to New York, the Taoiseach has allied himself with Trump’s views of the media. Trump has spent years denigrating the US press, repeatedly branding the media as enemies of the people.


As Simon Carswell reports, the Taoiseach told a behind-closed-doors meeting of Irish people working across a range of sectors in the city - including the media, finance and technology fields - that he could sympathise with Trump in his criticism of the media.

It is some distance away from allying himself with soft centrists such as Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron.

Specifically, the Taoiseach decried the focus of political reportage on gossip rather than the workings of the Government. Of course, the press is not above reproach, and Varadkar is not the first - and will not be the last - senior politician to complain about media treatment. Journalists are well used to it.

Not for nothing do some of us have Enoch Powell’s phrase “for a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea” hanging in our offices.

Nevertheless, the nature and timing of his comments are revealing.

On a deeper level, they call into question - once more - Varadkar’s temperament. Such comments hint at a siege mentality taking hold just over a year in office. TDs generally report that his operation has developed a superior attitude, too.

It is not as if the Taoiseach has had a particularly rough time from the media - far from it, he generally gets a good press.

He has yet to experience the level of media pressure endured by his predecessors Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny. His ability to withstand that level of questioning when it inevitably comes will be watched with intense interest.

Fianna Fáil has always maintained Varadkar is not good under pressure and is liable to say something in the heat of an election campaign, or other high-pressure situation, that will damage both himself and Fine Gael.

Many Fianna Fáilers also believe the party’s best chance of making inroads into the Taoiseach’s support is to sit back and allow what they see as the old Fine Gael arrogance come to the fore.

The Taoiseach’s comments in New York show they may not be mistaken in that belief. As one party frontbencher texted this morning: “Oh, it’ll be a fun campaign when it happens.”

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