Oliver Callan: Varadkar continues tradition of pointless gestures
Taoiseach glad-hands Trudeau and sends Deasy to DC as emigration flood continues
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Farmleigh House in Dublin. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
John Deasy was like a bull threatening to break out of the field. It took Taoiseach Leo Varadkar 10 days to put a ring on his nose to stop him bursting through the electric fence. The ring was newly minted in the imagination of the new T-sock’s department: special envoy to the United States Congress. We’ve never had need of one before because, well, we have an ambassador and a Minister for Foreign Affairs.
“Easy, Deasy,” one can imagine Leo saying as he ringed the Waterford bullock who’d been pawing the ground since other bulls got all the Minister of State jobs. It wasn’t a half-car but it had expenses and foreign travel. A just reward for the Waterford renegade who had spent years fighting unpopular-ex-taoiseach-turned-alleged-economic-saviour Enda Kenny.
Varadkar has copied the 'mortifying moments with world leaders' template from the Kenny handbook
Since Kenny was caressed out of office rather than ejected in a heave, Varadkar’s tenure is hampered by his inability to condemn what went before, which is why his era looks and feels the same as his predecessor’s.
Varadkar has even copied the “mortifying moments with world leaders” template from the Kenny handbook. And there have been bizarre claims that Kenny was offered a job before Deasy, as a Brexit envoy.
In the end, Deasy’s new job was announced on a Friday afternoon, where news is sent to die. Awkward questions about whether ditched Deasy was given the newly-created gig to stop him leaving the party vanished into the weekend.
Work in Washington
Instead, we were told this was Varadkar finally tackling the threat facing illegal Irish immigrants in Trump’s unforgiving United States. The Department of the Taoiseach said Deasy had merit for the job, based on his experience working in the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 1990s.
It’s a bit of a stretch though. The best person to lobby the Trump administration is a man who worked in Washington when George Bush snr was president? Never mind hoping his contacts are still relevant, it’ll be a surprise to find they’re still alive, 27 years on. The Irish illegals (or undocumented to use the Oirish euphemism) will hardly think all their prayers have been answered.
There was a harder sell a year ago when Kenny appointed his Chicago-based pal Billy Lawless to the Seanad to campaign on the same issue. We were expected to believe a publican was going to effect legislative change in Washington by travelling from Illinois to speak in the Seanad. The Upper House barely registers interest at home, never mind in the US, where they’re unlikely to have heard of it. Lawless has been busy instead trying to end the Good Friday ban to benefit guess who? Publicans, a much-neglected cohort indeed.
The Government’s approach to undocumented Irish abroad will need much more dramatic action than sending Diaspora Deasy to DC. First they must acknowledge that so many Irish are in the US as a result of decisions they made in government.
The jobseekers’ allowance for 18-25-year-olds was savagely cut by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and the qualifying age for full dole raised to 26. The lack of job opportunities and slashed welfare payments led to major youth emigration, which Michael Noonan sniffed was for “lifestyle reasons”.
Without conceding the central reasons, the Government is reinforcing the falsehood that Trump is exclusively to blame for the Irish illegals problem. It was fitting that after Deasy’s appointment, Varadkar was visited by Justin Trudeau of Canada, where many of our young also went in large numbers during austerity.
One wonders if Varadkar thanked Trudeau for taking in all our youngsters fleeing the Tory-style cuts that make him so proud. To sweeten the deal, Ireland squeezes all the hope out of them before they go, so that when they arrive in Canada they drink like the Dubliners at a wake, boosting Canada’s excise duty take.
Then the two bros exchanged gifts. Varadkar gave Trudeau a pair of socks and Trudeau gave Varadkar a full day of fawning media coverage where everyone forgot about the housing crisis that is probably the number one reason to emigrate these days.
Deasy got as angry as a Corkman who’s told he can’t fly on a foggy day
Because they haven’t stopped, by the way, and the volume is rising. About 30,000 15-24-year-olds depart Ireland each year and the numbers leaving exceeded those returning last year. Some recovery.
Only days before the Trudeau visit, the Government quietly missed its own deadline to move homeless families from emergency shelters. In fact, the only person who got to move from an unhappy quagmire into a more comfortable home was Simon Coveney, the new Minister for Foreign Affairs.
His housing hot potato was handed to Eoghan Murphy, who is struggling with the brief so badly he set off carbon monoxide alarms with talk of bedsits. It’s to be expected from a man who’s constituency is so posh its idea of a housing crisis is whether BOD and Amy’s extension is too bourgeois or whether it’s pronounced Rain-euh-leuh or Ran-ah-lah.
By granting Coveney his dream department, Varadkar caused such a kerfuffle of a reshuffle that people got irked and Deasy got as angry as a Corkman who’s told he can’t fly on a foggy day.
The bull is quiet for now but they’re not all happy in the field. So it’s probably a good thing that Varadkar is practising his jogging, because you never know when he’ll have to chase after the cattle again.