Departure of Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar a reason to celebrate

Leo Varadkar (Photo: Wikimedia/EU2017EE Estonian Presidency, 2017) commons)

The working class of Ireland celebrated the unexpected resignation of the Taoiseach [Irish prime minister] Leo Varadkar, on 20 March. Varadkar is one of the most vicious neo-liberal, pro-capitalist politicians in the South of Ireland and his departure has been much anticipated and wished for by the victims of his policies for many years now.

In his resignation speech, Varadkar stated: “I am no longer the best person for the job”.

When was he ever best person for the job?

His election as Taoiseach in 2017 made headlines around the world. Liberal identity politicians celebrated the election of a gay man of Indian heritage to the premiership of a western country. However while ticking the boxes for some, it was met with scepticism from many at home, especially by those who were aware of his record.

In an interview with Hotpress Magazine in 2010, Varadkar voiced his opposition to same sex marriage stating it was clear in the constitution that marriage was between a man and a woman. Ever the opportunist, he did an about turn during the marriage equality referendum in 2015, when he came out as a gay man and changed his support to a ‘Yes’ vote under pressure from a grass roots campaign from below.

In the same interview, Varadkar was asked if he thought abortion should be legalised in Ireland. He replied: ‘I don’t, in short.’ His opposition to abortion rights was reversed when many women took to the streets during the Strike for Repeal on International Women’s Day 2017.

Even after the victory of the repeal campaign, which was down to decades of the hard work by grass roots activists, Varadkar posed for a photo in Dublin Castle looking pensive and spoke about ‘The Quiet Revolution’; a statement completely out of touch with the thousands of young people celebrating loudly in the square of Dublin Castle.

Varadkar has left us with the highest numbers of homeless people ever recorded – 13,841 people, including 4,170 children, according to latest figures.

His legacy includes a housing crisis that will shape life in Ireland for the worst, in the decades to come. And a deepening of the long-standing crisis in the health service.

Years of ‘dog-whistling’ by Varadkar and other neo-liberal hawks, has seen the emergence of the far right, and the spectre of neo-fascism and intolerance come to the fore in Ireland. In fact, in 2008 he suggested that jobless non-nationals be paid to go home, a suggestion at the time which drew parallels with a similar policy advocated by the British National Party. Now he leaves us with a country where asylum seekers sleeping in tents in the snow were subsequently shifted to an empty field beside a burnt-out disused hospital, to spare the government embarrassment during St Patrick’s Day.

Not missed

Varadkar will not be missed. Like his predecessors in the office of Taoiseach, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny, he will largely be forgotten about over the coming months. Despite efforts to portray Varadkar, Cowen and Kenny as ‘patriots’ and ‘statesmen’ they will be remembered more as partisans of austerity and for their callous indifference to declining living conditions. Varadkar’s successor, the equally odious Simon Harris, should not have a honeymoon but rather a period of deep unrest.

A trouncing of government parties in the local and European elections and forcing the new Taoiseach to call a general election, would bring some satisfaction to those who have suffered under Varadkar and his government’s reign.

However, a new government either patched together by Sinn Fein, the soft left, and members of People Before Profit (PBP), or more probably a coalition between Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, could win some reforms but would unable to solve the problems facing the working class without a break with capitalism.
Real change can only be achieved by an organised working class fully prepared to overthrow the system that fundamentally oppresses all – who must sell their labour power in order to survive. For a truly equal society we need to build a mass workers’ party to remove once and for all the exploiters, and their minions like Leo Varadkar, from power.


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April 2024