Twitter age taoiseach learns about instant opprobrium

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking today at the 2017 Fine Gael Autumn Think-In in Clonmel, County Tipperary. Eamonn Farrell/ photo


By Evan Short

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is much in demand by the world’s media.

He’s right up there with fellow young guns Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron.

In recent days the under forty taoiseach was featured in a mostly glowing interview in the New York Times penned by columnist Maureen Dowd.

Such attention, of course, is a two edged sword.

Mr. Varadkar recently found himself on the sharper edge of political prominence when he had to defend a tweet (what else?) that he had sent out about the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana.

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Tweets are instant. Sometimes they can be badly timed.

This one seemingly was.

It was sent out on the day that two homeless people died, and in a week that four homeless people died in Dublin.

Mr. Varadkar tweeted: “Still remember where I was the moment I heard Diana had died. Hard to believe it’s twenty years.”

Not long afterwards Mr. Varadkar found it necessary to defend his tweet, or at least put it in perspective.

Speaking on the TV3 channel he said what someone tweets was not reflective of their responsibilities.

“Each one was an individual death with individual circumstances,” he said.

“It had been the case in some homeless deaths that people didn’t seek accommodation on the night. That can be a complex issue.

“I think most reasonable people – anyone on Twitter – understands what you may tweet out about is not necessarily a reflection of your responsibilities.”

Subsequently, the taoiseach convened a homeless summit in Dublin.

The meeting was organized following the recent deaths in the capital.

New figures show that 8,160 people are homeless in the Republic, including nearly 3,000 children.

After the summit, Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, said that two hundred additional emergency beds for homeless people would be in place by December and that an additional €10 million would be allocated for homeless families in need of emergency accommodation.

The government would also build new homes.

“I know it is not exhaustive,” the minister said. “I know people will ask is it enough, it is not enough. More will come. When I make decisions I will announce them.”

Speaking about the recent deaths, Dublin Lord Mayor Micheal Mac Donncha, said: “The deaths of the homeless people is nothing short of extremely tragic and a reminder of the need to find in a realistic way in ending homelessness.

“We cannot know the full toll on these people as human beings and I urge rapid intervention by the state and that government works quickly with homeless agencies on this situation.”

Inner City Helping Homeless director Anthony Flynn, said: “To think of four deaths within just a week is just terrible.

“And we have to ask serious questions over whether all the information on the deaths are being released to the public.”