Kathy Sheridan: Attacking Varadkar for Kylie letter is hypocritical

For years we craved youth in politicians. Now we have it, we should cut them some slack

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Kylie Minogue with others at the singer’s gig at the 3 Arena: He was never shy about his fandom. Photograph: Tiernan Brady/Twitter

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Kylie Minogue with others at the singer’s gig at the 3 Arena: He was never shy about his fandom. Photograph: Tiernan Brady/Twitter

 

Cringeworthy political moments are too easy to find. A glance at Reeling in the Years will revive a few memories , a surprising number of which seem to involve Fianna Fáil big beasts bellowing or croaking hoarsely from the precincts of some ardfheis or other, or hanging around a tribunal.

Nothing Donald Trump does is cringeworthy because the word bears no approximation to his catastrophic coarsening of humanity. So when we think of cringeworthy moments, they might include George H Bush’s bout of gastro enteritis at a Japanese state banquet when he threw up into the prime minister’s lap. Or when French president Jacques Chirac was overheard telling German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Vladimir Putin that “the only thing [the British] have ever done for European agriculture is mad cow disease”.

Or when Charles Haughey crashed the podium at Stephen Roche’s Tour de France win. Or when pre-president Trump rang then minister Leo Varadkar to express unhappiness with windfarm planning near his Doonbeg resort and Varadkar not only made further inquiries about it but recycled it as a funny story at a lunch on Capitol Hill last year. That’s cringeworthy.

Now where does the Taoiseach’s handwritten fan note to Kylie figure in the gallery of the “cringeworthy”, the word favoured by a Fianna Fáil tut-tutter?

Official notepaper

He should not have written it on official notepaper. Obviously. He was exploiting his public position and making it an official document subject to Freedom of Information requests. FoI denials and redactions are a serious matter for investigative journalists so in a sense, the refusals and the spin around the Kylie note become a cypher for obstructive behaviour at a more serious level.

But was the note itself worthy of faux-horror and page upon page of newsprint? He did not write it under the desk during talks with Angela Merkel. It was not a forelock-touching billet doux to Putin. Just one exclamation mark was deployed – correctly to convey excitement but not derangement – in “Am a huge fan!” He did not try to blag tickets. He was not attempting to schmooze with a star in order to garner phoney credibility with an otherwise unreachable voting cohort (see above). It was honest, wholesome fandom.

He did not try to blag tickets. He was not attempting to schmooze with a star in order to garner phoney credibility

The finger-wagging, snarky dismissals and whataboutery from a certain cohort of politicians and commentators who routinely blag family tickets to events is entertaining. Yes, every politician should get a regular reminder of who pays the wages (not forgetting the swingeing belt of an election every few years), but has our famous sense of fun and latitude deserted us completely?

Light diversion

Often on a Monday, the five most popular pieces in The Irish Times online are entirely sport-related. This is not a judgment. We desperately need light diversion alongside the updates on Brexit, the housing fiasco and cost overruns. No one begrudges the amount of sports coverage or suggests that the incessant chat around it is a scandalous distraction from more serious issues. In fact, we deem it to be good for your average male’s welfare, keeping him topped up with conversation primers and communal occasions.

If a politician grabs an hour of an evening with the lads to cogitate over Johnny Sexton’s injury problems, or takes a few minutes instead to fire off a happy note to a 50-year-old pop star, what is the difference – apart from time invested? Would the “cringeworthy” term have been thrown around with such abandon if say, the note had been addressed to Lionel Messi? Phoar. What man alive wouldn’t have added six exclamation marks to “Am a big fan!” on double-headed notepaper if there was a chance of a manly handshake with Messi round the Merrion.

Or supposing it had been addressed to say, Renee Fleming, the great soprano.

The criticism will centre on the fact he is out visibly enjoying himself instead of working to sort out the country 24/7

The suspicion is that a different yardstick is being applied here. The Taoiseach was clearly thrilled to be photographed backstage with Kylie (result!) so was never shy about his fandom. He likes the buzz of big concerts and will always be lambasted about that for one reason or another. Overtly, of course, the criticism will centre on the fact that he is out visibly enjoying himself instead of working to sort out the country 24/7.

For generations, we took aim at the grey old men in suits and craved youth in our politicians. Is this what we want for them ? Politics is hard, and much harder in an era of remorseless, 24-hour news and social media. Politicians are the butt of every angry, wounded, defamatory jibe. Bad faith is always assumed. We see the corollary of this every day in the thuggish feeding frenzy around Westminster. No normal human being will stand up to that burden of scrutiny for any length of time. Why would they want to ?

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