Leo Varadkar

EDITORIAL: All Changed, Nothing Changed

The Irish Times described it as a "bombshell announcement."

It certainly seemed to come out of the blue, or at least the green hue surrounding all things St. Patrick.

Fresh off the plane from Washington, or as fresh as is possible with jet lag, Leo Varadkar took to the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin and announced pretty much sin a bhfuil, that's it; he would be resigning as leader of Fine Gael and from the office of Taoiseach.

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Sometimes politics can be very simple.

Varadkar must have been silently smiling at springing such a surprise on all around him. We all like to spring a surprise from time to time in our lives. All around him were indeed surprised.

Standing before the hastily mustered media on those steps fronting the onetime engineering school for University College Dublin, Varadkar was surrounded by top members of his party. They all looked genuinely shocked, even glum.

It was like one of those grainy pictures from the Kremlin Wall back in those now relatively halcyon Soviet Union days. Who is standing closest to the leader might well be the next leader.

As it turned out, most in the picture, which was in living color of course, headed for the exits with surprising speed.

A jaundiced political observer might have been left wondering why so many at the top in Fine Gael didn't want the top job in the party, at least not right now.

Standing to Varadkar's right and rear on the steps was Simon Harris, minister for about ten things, looking suitably serious. It turned out he was the one in the bunch who was ready and waiting to take on the mantle of party leader, even in the face of slipping poll numbers, and just a year away from a mandatory general election.

Fine Gael is one part of a three party governing coalition together with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.  Both have stated that they expect the coalition to continue under the new leader of Fine Gael who will also be the new taoiseach.

And that would indeed be Simon Harris.

As the Irish Times reported: "So the proposed order of events is: Fine Gael picks a new leader in time for its ardfheis on April 6th – Varadkar resigns as Taoiseach when the Dáil meets the following week – the Dáil (with its FF-FG-Green majority, plus the support of some Independents) elects the new Fine Gael leader as Taoiseach, and then approves the Cabinet. And things continue as heretofore.

"This sober scenario means that the Government is required to be collectively imbued with the level-headedness necessary to ignore the likely deafening clamour for a general election from the Opposition. That might seem unlikely given the febrile political atmosphere created by Wednesday’s announcement, but things will calm down; they always do. Politicians will make judgments about their own interests. It is very clearly in the political interests of the Coalition to avoid an immediate general election.

"Indeed, the change of leader probably lengthens on the odds on an election taking place this year. The new taoiseach will want to spend a bit of time being taoiseach before they try to get re-elected."

So after the shock, the surprise, the relative silence of a government carrying on. Politics, yes, can sometimes be simple even after a bombshell announcement.