'Leaders' of Lockdown: The Long and Wasted Year
A new leader type — not so much leader as actor-‘asset’ — is exemplified in Irish politics by once-and-maybe-future Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who changed the role of Taoiseach from Chieftain to ruler.
Last night I heard you talking in your sleep
Saying things you shouldn't say.
Oh baby, you just might have to go to jail someday.
— Bob Dylan, The Long and Wasted Years
I have invented a parlour game called Go, Chieftain!, which, though tricky to play, has a contemporary political edge. The difficulty arises from the fact that it requires the actual presence of the Prime Minister of Canada, the President of France and the Taoiseach of Ireland to be present in the same room, whereupon the player is blindfolded and let loose among them. You can also play the game with female leaders, like Nicola Sturgeon, Jacinda Ardern, or even a mixed doubles version if you feel so inclined.
The idea is that there is absolutely no political or human distinction to be made between these people. In my version, designed with Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau and Leo Varadkar in mind, the first leader with whom the player makes physical contact might be despatched to Dublin, the second to Ottawa, and the third to Paris (this is alphabetical order version, though I have several other formats), without undue aftershocks. Obviously, no below-the-waist touching is permitted. The house then bets that, regardless of the outcome, since the three leaders are ideologically, morally, culturally and spiritually indistinguishable, there will be no change in anything. Since I invented the game, rather inconveniently, there has been a change at the ‘top’ in Ireland, with Micheál Martin replacing Varadkar, but happily this makes no difference either.
The ‘point’ of the game, if such it can be deemed, is that, for the first time in human history, the political leaders of virtually every Western country are not merely interchangeable but indistinguishable from one another in ways we have yet to properly articulate. But let us try to count those ways.
These ‘leaders’ are not leaders, but assets, which is to say owned by outside interests. They are relatively young — usually in their 40s or, at the most, 50s. They are chosen for reasons to do with their superficiality, i.e. presentable and plausible public image, manufactured (which is to say fake) charisma, willingness to promote trendy ideologies, aptitude for disregarding the wishes or needs of their populations, as well as their personal narcissism, their capacity for sociopathic or even psychotic behaviour, their propensity for viciousness. They have not been chosen by the people who notionally elected them, but by discreet but hands-on puppet masters, lurking at a remove. And perhaps the most important thing about them is that they are actually all actors, or failed actors, or wannabe actors, who can just about crank up enough talent to play characters resembling themselves.
There is a personality disorder called Narcissistic Personality Disorder that sometimes affects individuals. Its symptoms include apparent high self-confidence; explosive, demanding, self-centred temperament; profound sense of self-importance; deep need for excessive attention and approbation; and lack of empathy — all of these symptoms leading to difficult relationships. The root of the pathology is that the self-confident exterior conceals a fragile ego, beset by feelings of low self-worth. This personality is the essential operating programme for the new kind of political puppet. The last thing the puppet masters require is an older, stable, experienced and wise leader who will make up his own mind and possibly tell them to get stuffed, and is therefore unqualified for being ordained an ‘asset’. The combination of asset and narcissist is the ideal one for the external puppet masters, who really want no more nor less than that the ostensible leaders of the countries they control be avatars of themselves.
In the Time of Covid we have begun to experience the patterns of this new culture of leadership, but without yet noting or naming it. It explains much, including the obvious contempt of our ‘leaders’ for previously sacred texts and principles, their relentless indifference to facts and reason, their willingness to shove the boot of the state into the faces of their people and keep it there.
The example nearest to me is Leo Varadkar, who had the added qualifications (from the puppet masters’ viewpoint) in being from an immigrant family to Ireland and (at the time of his induction still in-the-closet) gay. He ‘came out’ in early 2015 in advance of the ‘Marriage Equality’ referendum of that year. For many years, as the heir apparent to Enda Kenny, he managed to affect an air of quiet intelligence by the studied art of mostly keeping his mouth shut. By the time he became Taoiseach in 2017 he had transformed from overweight village doctor to woke gay blade, though the physical aspects of this metamorphosis have somewhat regressed during the lockdown. Words like ‘poetic’ and ‘justice’ spring unbidden to the lips.
It is also important to recall that he became Taoiseach not by any vote of the Irish people but because his own party, Fine Gael, chose him as its leader following Kenny’s departure in 2017. A short time afterwards, Varadkar went on his first visit as Taoiseach to No. 10 Downing Street, for talks with Theresa May. Afterwards he conveyed his impressions to journalists: ‘I was reminded of that famous scene in Love Actually where Hugh Grant does his dance down the stairs. But apparently, it wasn’t actually filmed here so I didn’t get a chance to see the stairs.’
I dunno. If, in a parallel life, I had somehow found myself entering 10 Downing Street as the Chieftain of my people, the people of Ireland, I might have found my mind, even without the benefit of speechwriters, wandering to something like — let me think — maybe the fateful moment in December 1921, when General Michael Collins, who stood to become the first Chieftain of a free Ireland, found himself sitting opposite the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George to sign the Treaty that would define the life of Ireland even to this very moment — now, as you read this, just short of a century later. But, I suppose that, if one is an ‘asset’ and an actor, committed to unravelling rather than weaving history, and otherwise selling your people down the river, it is unsurprising if a Notting Hill romcom is the kind of thing that comes instantly to mind.
When the imminence of the Covid project was indicated at the end of 2019, an Irish general election was becoming overdue. This presented a problem. It was self-evidently vital (from the viewpoint of the puppet-masters) that the incumbent Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, must continue in office, but this was by no means a certainty, since his party, Fine Gael, had grown increasingly unpopular and even his own rainbow-socked image had lost its sparkle. As things stood, the election was to take place in early summer 2020; but, since a campaign in the throes of launching the Covid cult was unthinkable, this was peremptorily brought forward to February. In the event, Varadkar and his party got stuffed. Fine Gael dropped 15 seats and Varadkar’s personal vote at 8,476 was way behind the Sinn Féin poll-topper on 12,456 — a disastrous performance by an outgoing Taoiseach.
If the election had a winner, it was unquestionably Sinn Féin, the erstwhile political wing of the IRA, with Fianna Fáil in a poor second place. For the first time since independence, a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil seemed on the cards, even though both of these civil-war Big Beasts had been roundly rejected and their combined vote share had fallen to historic lows.
But first there was the tiny problem of SARS-CoV-2. It was vital from the perspective of the puppet masters that their man be in a position to continue in office until the new crypto-totalitarian order was bedded down. And so it came to pass. Pending coalition negotiations, Varadkar and his party remained in office as an interregnum government, despite having been roundly thrashed at the polls. Within days, this caretaker administration was preparing a package of laws directed at restricting human rights and freedoms in Ireland unprecedented since the Penal Laws introduced after the Reformation in an attempt compel Irish Catholics to become Protestants by impoverishing and terrorising them.
In Ireland, as elsewhere during the Covid horror show, people have been denied their right to support themselves and their dependents; shops and businesses have been forced to shut; industrial output has plummeted; schools and colleges shuttered. The streets have been empty, sports facilities suspended — as also with theatres, cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, beaches, parks, and just about any amenity long taken for granted as the due of a normal, civilised society. People have been ordered by the Government to remain indefinitely in their homes and not to have social interaction with anyone outside their immediate families. Those over 70 were for a time forbidden to leave their homes at all until it emerged that such a measure was ultra vires state authority. For the first time in living memory, religious services have ceased, and churches have been closed.
Varadkar served as Acting Taoiseach of the caretaker government until late June, when he was replaced by the leader of Fianna Fáil, Micheál Martin, with whom Varadkar’s party and the Greens had finally negotiated the coalition arrangement they had skilfully managed to avoid negotiating for an unprecedented four months. Part of the coalition agreement was that the position of Taoiseach rotate between the two main leaders, with Martin taking first go until the summer of 2022, at which point the leader of Fine Gael is scheduled to take over until the next election.
For non-Irish readers, the Taoiseach is the head of the Irish government. ‘Taoiseach’ is an Irish word, considerably stronger than the term ‘prime minister’, which has its own translation into Irish: Príomh Aire. The word ‘Taoiseach’ is more resonant and robust than that: it means ‘Chief’ or ‘Chieftain’, a reminder that the Taoiseach of the day is more than merely the first among equals in a government elected by the Dáil (the Irish equivalent of the House of Commons or House of Representatives) but also the leader of the Irish tribe, the father of the nation, charged not merely with administering national affairs but also summoning up the spirit of his people at times of crisis or travail. The first Taoiseach, upon the adoption of the Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) in 1937, was Eamon de Valera, a mythical figure to give both Churchill and de Gaulle a run for their money.
Contrary to protocol and convention — and arguable contrary also to the Irish Constitution — Varadkar’s caretaker government, returning to office following the February 2020 election, acted as though it had just been elected rather than given the bum’s rush. No government in the history of independent Ireland had introduced such a draconian and freedom-grabbing package of legislation as was introduced by that administration in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Without a scintilla of due diligence, the caretaker government launched in effect a campaign of terror against the Irish people, incarcerating them in their homes with unprecedented restrictions on basic freedoms that promised to crater the economy and destroy the livelihoods of at least half the population, endangering life by in effect disabling normative health services, and attacking the psychological and spiritual well-being of the Irish people by a series of privations and humiliations. Now the Penal Laws were being given a run for their money. Leo Varadkar was the line-manager of this initiative to lead Ireland into the ‘new normal’ of corporatism, communitarianism, or full-blown communism — whichever it was the puppet-masters had in mind to convey.
In mid-March, while in Washington, D.C., ahead of Saint Patrick's Day, Varadkar announced the first series of measures alleged to be in response to the virus, including the closure of all schools, universities and childcare facilities from the following day, the closure of all cultural institutions and the cancellation of indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor mass gatherings of more than 500.
Returning home early, he addressed the nation on Saint Patrick's night, in what became the most watched television event in Irish history. To anyone watching or listening, it was more or less immediately obvious that the word ‘Taoiseach’ had ceased to signify the leader of the Irish people, and had come to mean their ruler, albeit on behalf of outside interests. When you stop and reflect, you realise that, at no time in the run-up to what became the lockdown were the Irish people asked to adopt measures voluntarily. The message from the outset was: ‘We’re not asking you; we’re telling you.’
A friend of mine, a lockdown sceptic from the start, has for the past year been observing and thinking a great deal about Leo Varadkar. Early on in the Covid plandemic, he became convinced that Varadkar was not an ordinary player in whatever was afoot. He seemed to have status and powers of negotiation with the puppet-masters superior to those of even people like Boris Johnson. He detected that Varadkar believed in the secret agenda behind Covid, but not necessarily with the methodologies. He agreed, for example, with the necessity to put the future of the planet before the futures of most of its peoples, but understood that the public would never agree to a complete alteration of their circumstances in order to ‘save the planet’. Still, my friend believes, Varadkar would prefer if the public knew the real reason for the deception. As a fuller picture began to emerge, his sense of Varadkar seemed to consolidate. He formed the view that, not only did Varadkar seem to understand at a deeper level what was going on, but in some ways seemed to be trying to alert the public to its inconsistencies. This pattern, he says, continued after Varadkar was nominally replaced by Martin as Taoiseach.
My friend also believes that, because Varadkar was Taoiseach at the time of the original lockdowns in March/April, Ireland got off more lightly at that stage than it might otherwise have. We did not, he points out, see the extreme insanity of people being chased by police out of their own front gardens, as happened across the water. The fines were less severe also. Observing such details my friend drew the conclusion that Varadkar was a major player in the entire operation, and was using his influence to negotiate Ireland a slightly better lockdown deal.
This is why, he says, the knives are now out for Varadkar, why he is being investigated by An Garda Siochána for leaking government information to an interested friend. If he were to be taken out, my friend says, the tyranny would almost certainly get worse.
While understanding why my friend sees and interprets things as he does, I believe he is misreading some of the signs. There may be an altogether different explanation, one that reflects rather less well on Varadkar than by his analysis. It seems to me that the symptoms he describes are also key traits of Narcissistic Assets Disorder, corresponding closely to behaviours associated with those of the classical narcissistic manipulator or abuser, albeit manifesting in the political rather than the domestic arena. They are the rhetorical equivalent of TikTok dance videos.
In a fascinating interview with Dave Cullen on his Computing Forever channel last year, the psychologist and hypnotherapist John Anthony described how these traits can translate from the private to the public sphere, to create what may turn out to be the signature political phenomenon of the Time of Covid.
Anthony talks about the three levels of manipulation: the ‘love-bombing’ or ‘idealisation’ phase; the process of devaluation; and, finally, alienation. The controlling narcissistic first draws his victim in, then begins the process of belittlement, leading to a baring of fangs. Anthony brilliantly demonstrates how the manipulative techniques of the narcissist can be adapted to the public realm, enabling the Covid operation to harness the dynamics of archetypal relationships between narcissists/psychopaths (politicians) and co-dependent submissives/empaths (citizens), in effect weaponising on a grand scale the dynamics of what used to be called ‘wife-beating’.
John Anthony describes listening to Varadkar’s St Patrick’s Day speech from Washington last year, in which he spoke to the Irish public for the first time about the impending Covid crisis, and thinking that it was not a normal or fitting speech for the occasion. ‘I heard Leo Varadkar’s speech, and the speech was, “We are with you!” he was saying, “If you have lost loved ones, we are with you!” “If you have somebody sick in the family, we are with you!” And it just didn’t sound right to me. . . I wasn’t seeing it apparent in my own life. I was looking around at my family, my relations, and then I was looking at the society I lived in, my friends — and nobody knew anybody who had come down with this virus. Then, shortly after that, I remember people coming on social media saying how the hospitals were so quiet.’
‘[T]here’s a very precise and exacting way of doing this, if you study NLP, neurolinguistic programming, or if you have a look at hypnosis, at any level, or hypnotherapy, there’s a great predictability about it. . .’
‘[E]verything is terrific in the love bombing stage: the empathetic person feels they have found somebody that understands them, and listens to them, and the narcissistic person is listening to them and gathering information about this person, and begins to understand them and give sense to the information about them. The second part of the process: The narcissistic person cannot maintain the persona; it’s a false persona that they produce: they’re massively insecure people, there’s no doubt about that; they need attention, and they need to get control, and they need this manipulation, in order to validate who they are.’
Anthony addresses in clinical terms Varadkar’s St Patrick’s Day speech: ‘Now think of that for a moment — that kind of ingratiation, that kind of love bombing — and think of the speech that Leo Varadkar made to the nation — and all the other speeches that other politicians made — when they were doling out the love bombing of, ‘We are with you!’ This was the phrase that he used, when he spoke about the ‘coming calamity’. And he said, ‘And it will come!’ He seemed to know stuff that nobody else seemed to know precisely.’
First there is the ‘honey period’, when the prey is lured in. Then the denigration begins, subtly at first.
‘The devaluation, I would say, has almost come to an end, and we get to the third stage, whether you look at it from the personal, individual breakdowns and abusiveness and things like that, or if you look at it on the macro level, at politicians and the way society is working and things like that. So now we’ve got the third phase, the third phase is when the abuse increases, and you have things like abandonment . . . the abandonment phase, which is where they can dole out abuse of all sorts. They can go away — infidelity might be part of it. And this is where the compliant person begins to hit rock bottom. . . They have, in a way, abandoned their own experience and their own judgement, because each time that they do something, they’ll say to themselves, ‘Well, that’s a very simple thing. I should have known that he doesn’t eat steak for his dinner and I put on a steak — and I forgot, really’, and there was a blow-up. And now the person is beginning to enter into a phase where they’re so unsure of themselves, where the goalposts are constantly changing and where the confusion is mounting in them, and they do not know because of this addiction, because of this ideal that they had about the person, that they had in the beginning — it’s holding the map in place, if you like. But they do not know, and they are beginning to blame themselves.’
This, more or less is what has happened to the Irish people in the past year. And Leo Varadkar has been the kingpin of the process. When Micheál Martin stepped into the role of Taoiseach at the end of June 2020, he was entering an Office that had been utterly stripped of its original meanings and powers, and turned into, in substance and effect, a kind of prison governor’s role. Martin, who had seemed for many years that he would never achieve the Office of Taoiseach, now came to inhabit it in name only. He had been, up to a point, a politician of the old school, but now would have to learn the new ways and rules if he wished to continue. He did and did. Varadkar, became Tánaiste — deputy premier — but in reality remained the senior figure. Having overseen the beginnings of the time of Covid, his presence was essential to their continuance. Almost invariably, he and Martin jointly conducted press conferences and such modes of communication with the public, as though bound at the hip. But there was no evidence on these occasions of Martin’s notional seniority. If anything he deferred to Varadkar. Both men were assets — both were owned by outside interests. But Martin was the poor relation and would remain so, the Taoiseach mehole.
Varadkar seems to delight in announcing deadlines for the dismantling of restrictions and then revising them in a way that is calculated to disappoint. In early January, as people were thinking Ireland was finally about to emerge from lockdown, he told us to ‘forget about non-essential foreign travel’ in 2021, as some restrictions would be kept in place to at least June and Level 5 restrictions may need to be extended 'for longer than we would like'. Meanwhile, he warned, business owners need to be prepared for the possibility that they may not reopen until the end of March. By the beginning of March, he was warning his Fine Gael team that apart from some limited exceptions, ‘no further easing of restrictions will be considered until the end of April or early May’. A short time later, he predicted that we might see a ‘return’ to domestic tourism this summer. It is impossible to avoid the sense that he enjoys dangling freedom in front of people, as though he had a right to take it in the first place.
Indeed, in one precise respect, my friend’s thesis falls down: Varadkar, who did indeed seem to be able to arrange a somewhat lighter regime when he was Acting Taoiseach, equally seemed to abandon any desire to do so once ‘demoted’ to Tánaiste. At a press conference to introduce a new system of Covid fines in January 2021, he was to be heard musing about the moral efficacy of various levels of penalty to be imposed on citizens for various infringements of the Covid regulations.
‘At the moment, it’s a €100 fine for breaking the 5k limit, but it’s the same fine for running a kilometre or two further away from your house than you should as it is for a ski holiday,’ he ruminated. ‘And that seems a bit disproportionate that somebody who, you know, may go a few kilometres further from their house would get the same fine as someone who really breaks it by going on a sun holiday or a ski holiday at this time of year. We haven’t agreed a figure yet, but it’s going to be somewhere upwards of €500.’
He did not resolve the discrepancy he was meditating upon, but seemed content simply to discourse about the inherent injustices as though to monitor the responses, like the psychopathic killer in Reservoir Dogs who asks the guy he’s about to off as soon as he gets back from the shops if he’s sure about the ‘diet part’ of his order for a final cola. It’s all about making it clear who’s got the upper hand.
My friend is correct in observing that Varadkar appears occasionally to blurt out the truth, but I do not believe this is because he wanted to alert us to what is really happening. I believe it is because he enjoys the feeling of power of telling people that they’ve been had.
In July 2020, for example, after the health investigation unit, HIQA, had estimated that Covid-19 deaths had been significantly overestimated, perhaps by several hundred, Leo Varadkar responded that the findings were ‘interesting but not a surprise’ because of the way deaths related to the virus are counted. ‘In Ireland we counted all deaths, in all settings, suspected cases even when no lab test was done, and included people with underlying terminal illnesses who died with Covid but not of it.’ Varadkar added that this was the ‘right approach but skewed the numbers’, saying the priority was ‘to save lives, not look good in league tables.’
What this ‘skews’, of course, is not just the numbers but the meanings that might be derived from the numbers if these were being correctly reported. The lockdown policies pursued by Varadkar’s government from March 2020 were justified by numbers, at a cost of great loss, grief and fear. Now he was telling us that the figures had all been falsified, and knowingly so. But it didn’t matter. Why? Because his motives were pure: He was not interested in leagues tables, only in ‘saving lives’.
Instances of this syndrome and related ones are legion. On October 21st 2020, Ireland was moved to the fifth — the highest — level of lockdown for the six-week run-up to Christmas. At the public announcement of this development, two days earlier, Tánaiste Varadkar had stated:
‘…and of course there are going to be people who argue that we over-reacted, and they may in a few months’ time point to other European countries that didn’t lock down like us and might end up with no significant difference in excess deaths when this winter’s over. So none of us can know these things for sure, and all we can do is act with the best information and the best intentions, and that’s what we did. None of us here are lockdown enthusiasts, you know. Some people want to lock down sooner — you’ll find some people in the next two weeks who want to lock down for longer, in an attempt to get to zero. We know the consequences to lockdown, and there are some very negative ones that the Taoiseach touched on, like an increase in domestic violence, increases in child abuse, increases in poverty, unemployment, loads of people who are afraid to go to the hospital . . . that’s going to be a big issues now in the next few weeks, people who are going to be told the hospitals are overwhelmed when they’ve not, afraid to go to the hospital with their heart attack or their stroke, and their treatment beings delayed. So we always knew that there were negative consequences to lockdown, as well as the positive ones. And certainly in my view, and the government’s view, we should only go back into a lockdown if it is absolutely necessary, and we should only stay in a lockdown for as long as it’s necessary and not a moment longer.’
There are many things waiting to be discerned in this brief utterance. The most glaring is that Varadkar is openly predicting that the hospitals will misleadingly claim that they are overwhelmed, and that this is going to affect people in need of treatment, with the obvious implication that the conditions of these people will worsen, and that some of them are likely to die.
He seems blasé about this, though. He is not stating it in outrage. He is simply stating it, with a kind of shrug. So it goes, he seems to say. He is also clearly stating it as a kind of reference over his shoulder to the events of the previous spring, when this precise phenomenon was widely reported on YouTube, where many videos were posted of empty wards and hospital corridors at the height of the ‘pandemic’. The legacy media did not report it, but it became a major talking point on social media. He knows it happened, does not question it, and anticipates that it is likely to happen again.
In his general statements about lockdown, he is also revealing something about the logic by which the first lockdown was declared in March. ‘Some people’ will say the government had over-reacted, etc. He does not suggest that these people will lack a basis for such statements, but simply that they will make them. They may turn out to be right or wrong. Because nobody can know ‘for sure’ what will happen, the government must be deemed correct in whatever response it adopts. It cannot be held responsible for consequences, including the consequence of people dying as a result of the lockdown. The government has no responsibility for anything that happens, and therefore cannot be deemed to have had any responsibility for the decisions it made in March, any more than for the decisions the government is making now. They ‘always knew that there were negative consequences to lockdown, as well as the positive ones’. He does not say when they knew this. From the beginning? As a result of the observation of the first lockdown? The word ‘always’ implies the former. He appears to be saying, therefore, that, in a situation like this, where the future is unknown, the government may do whatever it chooses without being held accountable afterwards. The unknowability of the future is enough to let the government off the hook.
Leo Varadkar has for some time been the subject of an escalating mythology within the normalising tendency of Irish journalism, a myth-making he has affected to eschew but actually quietly cultivated. He is, we were told, ‘Leo the lion’, the straight-talking, from-the-hip-shooting, no nonsense breath-of-fresh-airiness who insinuates that the future will be different but never says how. I used to run into him from time to time when he was a lumpen member of Enda Kenny’s cabinet. We remained sort of friendly, though he was always watchful and a little anxious in my company. He always seemed to be with fellow minister Lucinda Creighton, so I rather naively surmised that there was a thing going on between them.
The summer after the episode that began with a lying drag queen and ended with a lying and malevolent colleague finally driving me out of the Irish Times, I ran into Varadkar at the Patrick McGill Summer School in Donegal. By this time he had ‘come out’ , though not as an ‘asset’. He greeted me in passing outside the hotel and I stuck out my hand to him. Rather warily, I felt, he offered me three fingers to jiggle if I pleased. It wasn’t so much a wet fish as a pained minimalism, as though he was not yet in character. I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it but that, observing him speak later on, I noticed a certain resonance with the handshake. Varadkar, it struck me, is never fully himself in his public persona, perhaps because there is no full self. Rather, he stands behind himself and occasionally steps forward and inhabits something that passes for ‘Leo the beloved’, but never quite amounts to a true note. Like Barack Obama, Varadkar is a construct. He is plausible, impressive, entertaining, sharpish and easy on the eye, but I cant avoid thinking that this public Leo is a bit of a Michelin man, a blow-up cuddly charmer designed to a careful blueprint.
Like other governments throughout the Western world in that spring of 2020, Varadkar’s gang of de-elected airheads essentially introduced martial law at the behest of a conspiracy of largely invisible international figures on the basis of a middle-of-the-range influenza-type illness. Had he the decency to leave it at that, his actions might have been forgivable, if not excusable.
But if ever we needed a Taoiseach capable of speaking to the spirit of the people, this was the time. In fact, what the Irish people got was an exhibitionist devoid of real feeling, an empty husk of a man, an actor of limited ability even at playing himself.
In that spring of 2020 Varadkar delivered several state-of-the-nations type address, the first on St Patrick’s Day. Each was characterised by fake sentiment, hollow platitude and the invocation of leaders, including Churchill, with whom Varadkar has as many points of comparison as between a racehorse and a donkey. Several of these statements were leavened with peculiar-sounding lines, immediately recognisable only to movie buffs but causing brief head-scratching among the general populace.
‘These are radical actions aimed at saving as many people’s lives as possible in the days and weeks ahead,’ Varadkar intoned at an early stage of the lockdown. ‘We’re not prisoners of fate, we can influence what’s going to happen to us next. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.’
This line was lifted straight from either The Terminator or Terminator 2: Judgment Day, in which much the same construction features: ‘The future is not set, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.’
Varadkar did not refer to the source of the quotation.
Some weeks later, he quoted what he called ‘a wise man’, without stipulating that the ‘wise man’ in questions was a fictional character.
Speaking about the prospect of lifting some of the Covid-19 restrictions, Varadkar said: ‘So, this afternoon let me end with words of hope. In the end, it's only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer.’
The quote was lifted directly, without attribution, from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers when Samwise Gamgee is speaking with his Hobbit friend, Frodo Baggins, who is about to give up hope: ‘How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.’
Things grew worse. Soon afterwards, the actor Sean Astin, who had played Samwise Gamgee, appeared on the national music radio station, RTÉ 2fm, and bet Mr Varadkar ‘50 quid’ that he couldn’t work a quote from the romcom Mean Girls into his next speech.
But there is no level of frivolity to which our Acting Taoiseach was unprepared to descend. At the end of another state-of-the-nation speech one Friday evening in June, Varadkar said, ‘Many people have asked, “How quickly can we bounce back, and how long it will take before our economy returns to where it was before, with a job for everyone who wants one, poverty in decline, and incomes on the rise?” The truth is we cannot know for sure. Some have asked whether there’s a limit to what we can achieve. My answer is that limit does not exist’. The last sentence is a direct lift from Lindsay Lohan’s character Cady Heron after she has won a maths contest in Mean Girls. As he reads the lines, it is obvious that Varadkar is nervous. A viewer might understandably gather that his nervousness has to do with the momentous nature of the events he is addressing — the loss of life, livelihoods, businesses, the grief and sorrow this lockdown has caused. But when you watch knowing what is coming, it is clear that he is nervous from excitement at what he is about to say — because he is about to win a bet with a Hollywood celebrity, because his moronic followers will cheer him to the rafters.
Sure enough, media organs which had led the charge for longer and deeper lockdown now whooped and cheered Varadkar’s ‘success’ in sneaking the line from a z-movie into his script. ‘Leo Varadkar rises to actor’s challenge by using Mean Girls’ quote’, hooted the Irish Times, with no visible trace of irony or reserve. The national broadcaster, RTÉ, a persistent cheerleader for Varadkar, reported that ‘eagle-eyed and eared viewers were quick to point out his latest popular culture reference.’
Varadkar, the Irish Times and RTÉ appeared momentarily to have forgotten that, at that point, three months into the ‘pandemic’, over 1,700 Irish people had been reported by precisely these agencies — as having died of Covid-19 since the first case had been reported on February 29. Whatever about the reliability of the figures, it was certainly the case that more than 1,000 people had died in care homes, a matter currently the subject of escalating questioning by families and doctors, though mostly ignored by RTÉ. Nearly all of these people died without the comfort of being accompanied in their final moments by their loved ones, who were prohibited by orders of Varadkar’s government from saying their goodbyes to those to whom they owed their very lives.
Perhaps it is wrong to hold Varadkar to the kind of standard his status in Irish life has come to insinuate. In fairness to him, Varadkar is an incorrigible airhead, a dope, a gobshite and a lump eejit — in our native tongue, a gom, an amadán and a ludramán. Nobody can recall a single intelligent sentence he has uttered. The nicest thing I can say about him is that he is a bear who has been blessed with very little brain.
In October 2018, 15 months after becoming Taoiseach, Varadkar wrote to pop singer Kylie Minogue begging to be allowed personally to welcome her to Ireland when she came to Dublin to perform at a concert scheduled for Dublin later that month. The letter, on the official headed notepaper of the Office of An Taoiseach, emerged following a freedom of information request, notwithstanding two separate attempts by Varadkar’s office to block its publication. It read, ‘Dear Kylie, Just wanted to drop you a short note in advance of the concert in Dublin. I am really looking forward to it. Am a huge fan! I understand you are staying in the Merrion Hotel which is just across the street from my office in Government Buildings. If you like, I’d love to welcome you to Ireland personally.’ The missive was signed ‘Leo V Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister)’. Due to Minogue developing a sore throat, the concert was rescheduled until December 2018, when Varadkar, his partner and four other males were photographed with Minogue. One of their number, gay rights campaigner Tiernan Brady, posted a photo of the occasion on Twitter with the caption, ‘6 gay teenagers meet the girl from Neighbours! @kylieminogue #Dublin.’
In late May 2020, at the height of the lockdown, Varadkar was photographed sunning himself topless at a picnic with pals in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, at a time when his own government was enforcing a nationwide ban on picnics. Far from observing his own social distancing rules, Varadkar was pictured with one of his male companions feeling his belly, and engaging in other consensual evocations of the old normal. The compliant media went into overdrive, constructing alibis and justifications for this exhibition. Asked next day to comment on the episode, Varadkar responded: ‘Unfortunately there are camera phones anywhere there are people these days but that's the way it is. You have to live your life — if you're afraid of photographs you'd never go out.’ This from the ‘Chieftain’ of a country in which for the previous two months, many older people had indeed been terrified to go out, if not for fear of the imminent death promised by government propaganda, then fear of Garda officers getting their rocks off by hounding people for sitting on park benches or taking their grandchildren to an empty beach. The same weekend, the national broadcaster, RTÉ — long seen as providing a Praetorian guard for Varadkar — carried a report with the headline ‘President Trump under fire for shaking hands during a round of golf’. A couple of days after the Phoenix Park episode, the Irish Times (another relentless Varadkar fanzine) reported the assistant secretary at the Department of the Taoiseach as saying that the social distancing injunction had simply meant that the government was ‘not madly encouraging people’ to take up ‘a lot of space and time in amenities where they are cramped.’ The ‘advice’ was ‘guidance’, she said. ‘We’re asking people to use their head.’
All this is pure narcissism. Narcissism as public policy. Narcissism in the dry verbosity of government spokespersons. Behind Varadkar’s narcissism, however, was detectable another and more sinister strand: that of psycho-sexual exhibitionism, a kind of sado-masochistic display of raw and actual power over the most intimate aspects of the lives of those who were supposed to be his sovereign employers: ‘Look at me: I’m the Chief and you’re my slaves in bondage!’
This is where — one of the ‘wheres’ — it ceases to be even mildly funny. Maybe it would be possible to come to terms with Varadkar’s endless superficiality, his tastelessness, even his vanity, if there was even a scintilla of evidence that he actually knew or cared anything about the country he has appeared to be leading, in one way or another, over the past four years. Maybe it would be possible to tolerate his constant playing up to social media, his relentlessly MOR pop culture references, his shameless sucking up to celebrities, even his ridiculous socks, which he appears to have been collecting in his bottom drawer in all the years of his life as a lumpen latter-day blueshirt. It’s the implicit contempt for Ireland and her people that really sticks in the gut. It’s not even the bad taste that’s so offensive as the calculation, the condescension, the underlying assumption that, in addressing third millennium young Irelanders, he imagines generations of people something like as air-headed as himself.
Having observed the thickening and ill-dressed figure of this pedestrian political hack in the years before his ascendency to the headship of the Irish government, the public would have had a right to be astonished, in the wake of his elevation, by the scale and extent of his narcissism, and indeed his almost malicious flaunting of his vacuity in public, as though his deeper aim is to denigrate not merely the office he holds but also the country he has purported to lead and its people, who still set some store by its history and inheritance. But it’s not clear that very many people have taken any of this in.
Allowing a man this superficial to direct the running of our country implies a self-disrespect that verges on the suicidal. In recent decades, it is true, the quality of Irish politicians has deteriorated exponentially, in part due to the changing nature of Irish political power structures. Since Ireland’s induction in 1973 into what is now the EU, Irish politics has tended to attract the calibre of individual suited to rising to the level of competent messenger boy/girl, and no further, which is essentially all that is nowadays required of an asset — someone to do the bidding of the bureaucrats in Brussels and the T-shirted corporates of Silicon Valley, and maintain the appearance of independence by acting out our various empty rituals inherited from a rather different and more promising past. The Time of Covid has taken us to a new low, but we are still plummeting.