In February, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar questioned the results of newly-published research that suggested one in 10 Irish parents used food banks to feed their children in the last year.
Apparently, almost three in 10 parents skipped meals or cut portion sizes so that their kids would have enough to eat, according to the ‘Food Insecurity in Ireland: Impact on children and their parents’ survey, which was published back then by Barnardos.
When asked about the survey, An Taoiseach said he “would wonder about the scientific basis” of the report as he was dubious about its findings. “One-in-10 families using food banks would be over 200,000 families using food banks – I’m not sure that is correct.”
Fair enough, we all say, he’s entitled to his opinion too and it certainly is an educated one. Two month’s later, Mr Varadkar was in denial mode again; he played down an eight-point plunge in Fine Gael’s support in a published opinion poll, as Sinn Féin surged ahead in the same research.
That survey was carried out by Behaviour And Attitudes (B&A) for The Sunday Times and had put support for Fine Gael at 15%, Fianna Fáil at 21% (up one percentage point), and the Greens at 6% (up one point).
This is seven points down on the Fine Gael vote in the 2020 general election, and the lowest support for the party recorded in a B&A poll. But no, Mr Varadkar, who said that he reads opinion trends over three or four polling results, “does not read too deeply into one poll”.
Fair enough. When it came to the hot potato of ending the moratorium on no-fault evictions from rental properties, everyone it seems shouted ‘no’, bar most of the political class. At the time, Housing campaigner Fr Peter McVerry warned that the country faces a “tsunami of misery”, while other activists have warned that emergency accommodation services will be put under immense pressure, because of the move backed by Mr Varadkar.
‘Can it really be that he is right and everyone else – or the majority of people in a survey – is wrong? How often he dismisses the blatantly obvious…’
They were ignored and the change was made. Since then, the issues of finding accommodation and homelessness have become even worse. Then in May, Mr Varadkar dismissed the results of the public consultation on ‘hate speech’ laws, arguing that “very often” such consultations are hijacked by “campaigning groups” and are not “reflective of public opinion”.
Well, as we said, Mr Varadkar has well-educated opinions, he has every right (as Taoiseach) to express them and he has the responsibility of putting some of them into effect. But there is a very clear trend here – is he actually listening anymore?
Can it really be that he is right and everyone else – or the majority of people in a survey – is wrong? How often he dismisses the blatantly obvious.
Some time ago, we argued on this page that politicians, once elected, have to be allowed to act according to their beliefs and that it was all-too easy to criticise them for not listening.
We argued that their actions may not be wrong, just because some people disagreed with them, and that they had to be respected for the job they were elected to do. Certainly there is respect for Mr Varadkar, and not without cause.
Still, the frequency with which he dismisses the findings of one survey or another is alarming. He’s in the driving seat.
We do hope he isn’t wearing blinkers which materialised during his long, long, long term in government.
Ireland is sailing through a sea with many icebergs – looking and listening more and dismissing less might be the better course for the rest of us.