Current Affairs Health Politics

Leo Varadkar’s Lockdown: Picnics In The Phoenix Park, Accommodation In The Farmleigh Estate

While it would be unfair to place Leo Varadkar’s “picnic controversy” in the same scandalous category as that of Dominic Cummings, the Brexit strategist and government Svengali at the centre of a feeding frenzy in the British press, there is no doubt that the Taoiseach at the very least pushed the boundaries of what was permissible under the Covid-19 lockdown regulations when he and his partner met some friends for lunch in the Phoenix Park last weekend. In some ways it’s a credit to our low-key democracy that the head of government can enjoy a picnic and sunbathing in a major public park free of hordes of security minders and aides on a sunny afternoon, with just a couple of gardaí on hand to keep the curious at bay. However at a time when normal life across the island is far from normal, and at the behest of the authorities, the optics are rather poor to say the least. Especially for a politician with a noted – and rather expensive – obsession with PR.

Which makes the evident reluctance of the Irish media to address the matter all the stranger. Or perhaps not so strange given that the majority of our politicos and journos tend to swim in the same social and ideological waters. Turning on their own is not really the done thing. Especially when many senior people in the industry have been engaging in similar behaviour, including decamping to second homes in places like Clare, Kerry and Galway for the duration of the lockdown. Though in the case of the Fine Gael leader he did the latter in rather better style when he and his partner abandoned their apartment in leafy Castleknock to move into the Steward’s Lodge on the grounds of the Farmleigh estate, the salubrious State-owned demesne that normally hosts diplomatic meetings and visiting heads of state.

The online outrage this latest snippet of gossip has generated has been only matched by the fury of the Blueshirt apologists arguing that the Dublin West TD has every right to find comfortable accommodation for himself at a time of exceptional stress as he leads Ireland through the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus crisis. And sure, isn’t he paying for his stay, you shower of begrudgers? Albeit for only 50 quid a night in the equivalent of a five-star hotel as he scolds the citizenry about our dependence on emergency payments from the Government to put food on the table and keep the roofs over our heads while declaring the need for hundreds of thousands of employees to return to their subsistence wages.

I’m not saying that the above scandal is an illustration of one set of rules for the Irish 1% and another set of rules for the Irish 99%. But the higher you go in the country’s socio-economic structure, the higher the position you are born into, the more likely you are to find that the common set of rules that binds us all can bend enough to accommodate your particular needs and your particular wishes. Even during a time of global pandemic.

20 comments on “Leo Varadkar’s Lockdown: Picnics In The Phoenix Park, Accommodation In The Farmleigh Estate

  1. gendjinn

    Might want to spend a few moments wondering why Leo decided to create this media furor and what is he attempting to distract everyone from? I mean, it’s not as if Farmleigh house lacks private gardens, forcing Leo into the public’s view.

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    • True. Hey look guys, lets push aside the rules, everything’s getting better? Something like that? Good be. Or just plain arrogance and the knowledge that the establishment press wouldn’t bother reporting on it or making an issue of it?. I suspect the latter. This whole controversy and questioning of the Taoiseach’s behaviour was driven by social media. For once, not a bad thing! 😉

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      • gendjinn

        Who knows, right? Maye time will tell. He’s probably just a gobshite, he was in YFG after all.

        On the other hand, if you hand told me in the 80s our gay Taoiseach would be downing cans in the park, topless, getting belly rubs from his boyfriend and the political criticism would break down along civil war lines, well I would never have believed you. Might be a milestone to rival repeal of the 8th?

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      • Sham Bob

        Could be a bit of a stunt to appear down-to-earth same as him fumbling through his pockets for the lockdown plans.

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  2. “I’m not saying that the above scandal is an illustration of one set of rules for the Irish 1% and another set of rules for the Irish 99%.”
    The Varadkar incident may not be the best illustration, ASF, but that’s not to say the situation you allude to doesn’t exist in Ireland. In many respects, the higher echelons of Irish society and their self-serving networks operate just the same as those in England, only for Eaton read Blackrock College. “Connected” people in Ireland, many of whom have no discernible talents, or much even in the way of obvious intellect, seem to be able to flit at will from one high-powered position to another.
    Without naming any names, one perfect example springs to mind. The son of a historically well-connected family and, naturally enough, a Blackrock old boy left university and tried teaching for a little while. He didn’t like it, so left and was immediately taken on by a law firm. He didn’t like that either, so left again and inherited his father’s seat in the Dail and, surprise, surprise, was made a junior minister in the then government. However, he contrived somehow to lose the seat, one of the safest in the country, at the next election. But fear not, within a month or two he was appointed CEO of one of the largest NGO’s in the country. Within 2/3 years the NGO nearly collapsed, and he moved on again. After another few months he was earning again, after being appointed head of a think-tank. He left the think-tank after being chosen to (successfully) stand for election again, this time to the European Parliament.
    No one will convince me that this guy has gained any of his positions purely on merit. And there are many more like him. The same people keep popping up in high-powered positions, irrespective of their talents, or lack of them, or past histories of failure.

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  3. Eoin Ó Riain

    Strictly speaking Varadkar broke no rules. The “regulatuons” state clearly “Up to 4 people who don’t live together can meet outdoors while keeping at least 2 metres apart.” The do nor forbid or mention picnics anywhere. Whether he and his partner were 4 metres apart from their two companions is impossible to measure in the long distance video. The spirit of the restrictions does however forbid casual visitors to his home and I assume these were casual rather than work people. Hence his only option under the current restrictions was to meet them within 5 KM of his home.

    Having said all that I feel that the office of Taoiseach deserves a little more decorum than this picture displays but of course I recognise that that possibly says more about my attitude (or age) than his.

    I would hasten to add that I have never voted for the party that made it so difficult for speakers of our National Language to engage with the state when they abolished the requirement for Irish in the civil service in 1974.

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    • But Varadkar certainly pushed the boundaries of the rules. And the spirit of the rules. Lead by example and all that. Having a few cans in a park with your partner and mates is not what anyone had in mind when it came to what was permissible under the more relaxed lockdown advice.

      If this was any other time I’d be rather admiring of the situation. I like the idea of a common touch government where you can see a senior minister shopping in the local Aldi. Which many other nations would rarely experience. A head of government hanging out with his mates in a popular public park like the rest of us on a sunny summer afternoon is good optics, shirt off and all. But not at this time. Not when so may of us have sacrificed so much on terms of limiting our lives. My routine for the last two months has been work, home, work, home and work again. I cant even attend my cousin’s funeral today in Cork. Meanwhile the FG leader is swanning around the Farmleigh estate Big House style. Bah!

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      • However, this raises a question. After most of the world being on lockdown for at least a couple month….what IS safe to do?

        At some point it become a scientific question. Japan and S. Korea have done very well, keeping the virus down despite largely avoiding full lockdowns. S.Korea has mostly focused on contact tracing and Japan (although Japanese are pretty fastidious about mask wearing and hand washing!!) has largely targeted activities that are a risk for “super-spreading” events.

        I know Europeans would mostly be suspicions of how much intrusion of privacy the S. Koreans have accepted-but maybe blue-tooth proximity tracking would be less invasive of individual privacy than GPS based tracking. Certainly that’s better than lockdown.

        There needs to be more info on what activities are actually dangerous. Where I am, some states have tried to ban buying pumpkin, corn, bean, vegetable, and flower seeds so they can do their gardens, fish in lakes within a mile of one’s home, and other things I wouldn’t think are a big risk!!! Meanwhile somebody wants crowded meat plants to be labeled essential.

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        • There’s a balance there, isn’t there? Banning purchase of seeds seems a bit excessive. Talking to a friend last night he was complaining, reasonably enough I thought, that access to allotments had been stopped this last two months. Not sure that makes a huge amount of sense. That said it does seem reasonably clear what is safe and what is less safe at this point. Social distancing is the best approach and then sensible application of guidelines thereafter likewise.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I actually took an free online course sponsored by John Hopkins for people who want to be contact tracers. Not sure how useful the course will be in actually getting the job, though I actually want to do it and have done jobs that involve speaking to the public. However the course was pretty good for an online class (I’m sure the actual job will involve more training.) It did convince me that contact tracing is a viable option to control the virus with or without a number of other possible strategies being researched in addition to a vaccine.

            Smallpox after all was eradicated by intensive contact tracing nearly 200 years after a vaccine was invented for it and after millenia of horror upon horror with whole civilizations eradicated. I know that, many European constitutions and conceptions of personal privacy will make contact tracing more complicated than most other Democracies, but hopefully that will be no show stopper.

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  4. On the Cummings affair, I haven’t seen or heard mentioned anywhere that he and/or his wife were actually tested for coronavirus. It’s all “we were showing symptoms”. Surely if you’re symptomatic the first thing you would do is get tested, not undertake a nearly 400-mile car journey north? If they weren’t tested, what proof is there that they ever were symptomatic?
    Would Cummings really have gone back to the office, risking his colleagues’ health, after visiting his wife on the afternoon she supposedly rang to say that she was showing signs of coronavirus?
    If they weren’t really symptomatic, then their already-thinnest-of-excuses for travelling to Durham, and ludicrous excuse for visiting Barnard Castle, evaporates completely. Rather, it would seem that Cummings took the opportunity to travel north to visit his parents over Easter while his (nominal) boss, Johnson, was off ill. The Barnard Castle trip was more likely a birthday outing for his wife than it was an eyesight test*, as he laughably claims.
    *The adult equivalent of, “Please Miss, the dog ate my homework”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Publicly claiming, or having claimed for them, that he had coronavirus must have seemed like a win-win idea for them at the time. He got the sympathy and she got to write her (highly deceptive, whatever the truth of the matter) articles on the agonies they had suffered.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 4 months after losing the GE he’s still running the country. a change to the Constitution needed so that a time limit be set to form a Government or back to the people.

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  6. Looks like England can’t have a good going scandal and Ireland cant.

    Much ado about nothing unlike the disgrace that is Cumming and Johnson.

    Between these two characters they have exposed UK democracy for the sham that it is by undermining public safety and health, undermining an important health and safety message, showing that the rule of law is non existent and where the elite can do as they wish whilst the police and prosecutors ignore the breaches. Its the anarchy of Tory rule and folks know it.

    But to maybe cast an analogy. A man is drunk for days. To test of he is sober to drive he takes his wife and four year old child out for a sixty mile drive. During the drive the man feels nauseous and has to stop the car and walk to a river supported by his wife, and accompanied by the infant. After 15 minutes he returns to the car and continues on his test drive.

    And that from a man who averred that when he got initially drunk he drove 260 miles because being a man at the heart of government in London there was no child care facilities, with it being something any father would do.

    And Boris Johnson and the Police agree!

    And for all those who lost loved ones, who could not visit them in their last moments, could not attend their funerals, who had to watch videos taken by nurses in hospitals and videos shot in crematoria, they will all agree too.

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  7. just for a few minutes, imagine being a member of the black, Asian, or any other minority ethnic community in the US. It helps put our own situation(s) in perspective.

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