Following an account of a New York banquet in a recent biography of Leo Varadkar[i], we submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) to the Department of the Taoiseach. We are seriously concerned at the close proximity between the Taoiseach and leading Irish journalists, including one of the authors of Leo: A Very Modern Taoiseach, Phillip Ryan, who is deputy political editor across the titles of the generally pro-government Independent Newspaper group.
That book revealed that the ‘Taoiseach has made a virtue out of wining and dining journalists who accompany him on international trade missions’, believing, ‘it is important to spend time with them socially’. Perhaps most troubling is that the authors seem entirely unashamed about spilling the beans on one of these junkets.
On one New York jolly, ‘More than twenty guests, who included journalists from print and broadcast media, joined the Taoiseach and foreign affairs officials for a five-course, three-hour-long meal’. The authors, at least one of whom seems to have been present, recall the guests devouring ‘French onion soup, foie gras, filet mignon and mushroom ravioli dusted with black truffles’, followed by further drinks in Fitzpatrick’s Manhattan Hotel in Midtown.[ii] Yum yum yum.
Our FOI sought, ‘records of department expenditures from an Taoiseach’s visit to America this year in Boucherie Restaurant and FitzPatrick’s Manhattan Hotel, both in New York on March 16th and 17th, 2018.’ We were intrigued to know who paid the bill in a restaurant where the ‘Butcher’s Block’ of 16oz filet mignon, 16oz, ‘hang steak’ and 16oz ‘bone in New York strip’ costs an eye-watering $205, and that’s leaving aside its environmental impact.[iii]
According to the officer, the department holds no record of any such expenditures. But it is hard to believe that the Taoiseach stumped up, or that journalists were asked to put their hands in their pockets, a notoriously rare occurrence. We are now flummoxed, and invite any journalist or government official present to let us know who paid the bill by emailing [email protected].
‘Tubs’ entertains Varadkar on the ‘Late Late’
Fresh from selling as many toys as possible on the Late Late Toy Show, amid paeans ‘to those less fortunate this Christmas’, Ryan Tubridy interviewed Leo Varadkar on the ‘Late Late Show’ on December 11th. At the recent Fine Gael Ardfheis Varadkar pledged to reduce income tax cuts if he is re-elected Taoiseach[iv], which will presumably increase toy sales next Christmas.
To date, we have enjoyed no success with any of our FOI enquiries into Tubridy’s third party dealings. RTÉ’s solution to the problematic situation of employees and contractors receiving payments from third parties has been to introduce a Catch-22 rule whereby potentially damaging material is withheld if it is commercial sensitive.[v]
Tubridy previously offered this plug of the Varadkar biography, enthusing that it, ‘offers the reader and voter a fascinating insight into an intriguing and public figure that none of us really know. With incisive background detail coupled with up-to-date analysis, this is a very welcome account of a private man in the most public role in Ireland.’
On his light entertainment show, Tubridy went through the motions of grilling the Taoiseach, demanding whether the HSE is fit for purpose, to which Varadkar replied: ‘Not as the organisation it is now,’ intimating ‘structural change’, a move to ‘slim down’ the organisation and bring ‘a lot more autonomy’, which sounds suspiciously like an impending privatisation. But it was all soon sweetness and light between RTE’s leading man and the top of the political class,
In a departure from the Irish Times’s usual Varadkar veneration, especially the use of cutesy images obviously supplied by government press office, Peter Crawley offered this assessment:
If, like any number of its international guests, you had no idea what kind of a programme The Late Late Show is, last night’s broadcast was as good an introduction as any.
What kind of talk show, for instance, would interview the leader of the country as its first guest, as a warm-up act for two crooners and a comedian?[vi]
‘Murph’ shows up for the team
Meanwhile, Varadkar’s loyal fixer, and founding member of the legendary Five-A-Side Club of Young Fine Gael Turks, Eoghan Murphy was before the Dáil, opposing the Solidarity-People Before Profit Anti-Eviction Bill, which includes a ban on renovating a property as grounds for ending a lease.
Murphy maintained that the government is showing a clear commitment to social housing, but his sympathies clearly lie with embattled ‘small’ landlords, bemoaning, ‘We are losing landlords in this country, it is a fact.’
He cited the statistic that eighty-five percent of landlords own one or two properties, but this tells us nothing about the proportion of the rental sector held in those circumstances. Moreover, a single property could be a four-bedroom house in his Dublin Bay South constituency costing €6,000 per month;[vii] lies, damn lies and statistics, as Mark Twain put it.
Murphy’s claim that it is ‘wrong to demonise these people because they are providing homes for other people’ is a subtle abuse of the English language. A landlord does not ‘provide’ for a tenant, providing for someone implies generosity, not offering a property in exchange for a rent, which in Dublin, for too long, has been left to ‘market forces’, and the gumption of gouging landlords.
The rhetoric about protecting the small guy – beloved of neo-liberals the world over – affords protection to owners of multiple properties, who are increasing their assets, as Murphy’s speech concedes. His political colours are revealed in this passage which will anger anyone caught in an impossible rental situation:
We have to be very careful in interfering more than we are at the moment. We have to make sure that we are not placing extra burdens on these small landlords. And we have to make sure that we are not prohibiting someone from selling a property that they own when they might need to sell that property for perfectly legitimate reasons in their own lives. They may not have the money to re-compensate the person living in the property at that point.[viii]
God help anyone renting in Dublin at this time, because this government’s sympathies (and Eoghan Murphy’s it would appear) lie with the wealthiest five percent in the country, who own over forty percent of its wealth, with eighty-five per cent of that held in property and land. We suggest a more important priority: to make sure everyone has a roof over their head. Unfortunately many of the leading journalists in this country, who should be pursuing this injustice, are themselves dining at the top table.
Did you know that Cassandra Voices has just published a print annual containing our best articles, stories, poems and photography from 2018? It’s a big book! To find out where you can purchase it, or order it, email [email protected]
[i] Frank Armstrong, ‘Leo-Liberal’, Cassandra Voices, October 5th, 2018.
[ii] Phillip Ryan and Niall O’Connor, Leo: Leo Varadkar – A Very Modern Taoiseach, London, Biteback Publishing, 2018, p.321-322
[iv] Juno McEnroe, ‘Varadkar pledges income tax cuts if re-elected as Taoiseach’, Irish Examiner, 17th of November, 2018.
[v] Frank Armstrong, ‘RTÉ Says: ‘Stars’ In Their Own Cars’, Cassandra Voice, July 1st, 2018.
[vi] Peter Crawley, ‘Leo Varadkar on the Late Late Show: Taoiseach has become ‘CEO’, Ireland ‘the organisation’, Irish Times, 8th of December, 2018.
[vii] Daft.ie, https://www.daft.ie/dublin/houses-for-rent/ranelagh/dartmouth-road-ranelagh-dublin-1858718/, accessed 18/12/18.
[viii] ‘Deputy Eoghan Murphy – Private Members’ Business – 12.12.2018’, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1RRw0lM9iI, accessed 18/12/18.