- 15 Apr 19
Leo Varadkar’s letter to Kylie Minogue, in which he offered to welcome the singer to Ireland, prompted a ludicrous over-reaction.
The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, wrote a letter to Kylie Minogue saying that he’d like to welcome her to Ireland. Cue outrage! And lots of ludicrous foaming at the mouth...
Where does the Taoiseach get the time to write a fan letter like that? Surely he has better things to be doing? If he wasn’t so eager to meet the Australian former soap star, he’d have solved the housing crisis. And the Children’s Hospital would have come in on budget. And the nurses never would have gone on strike. All very measured...
Senator Michael McDowell weighed in with the insult that the Taoiseach is a “camera slut.”
To which a first response has to be “careful with that axe, Micheál.” Personally, I’m not sure if there is a huge difference between someone who loves being photographed, and someone who gets a hard-on when a microphone is stuck under his or her gob.
But there is another question, which Michael McDowell’s barb begs. And that is: what precisely is a ‘slut’? What does the word mean? And why would an “eminent senior counsel” use it in relation to our current Taoiseach?
Merriam-Webster explains ‘slut’ thus: “A promiscuous woman, a woman who has many sexual partners.”
Wikipedia say this: “Slut is generally a term for a woman or a girl who is considered to have loose sexual morals or who is sexually promiscuous.”
The Oxford Living Dictionary offers two meanings that might be considered complementary by ignoramuses and misogynists: “1. A woman who has many casual sexual partners; 2. A woman with low standards of cleanliness.”
Used as a term of abuse, it is therefore a highly unpleasant, sexist slur. So why did Michael McDowell think it was okay to use it to characterise Leo Varadkar? Here, perhaps, we get into even murkier waters. Is it because Leo Varadkar is gay? Did Michael McDowell – consciously or otherwise – make the assumption that a term of abuse usually applied to fallen women was somehow appropriate to a homosexual Taoiseach?
To ask these questions is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. There are real issues here, far more important than whether it was a good idea, or not, for Leo Varadkar to get his photo taken with Kylie. What, for example, would have been the reaction, if McDowell had said the same thing about Helen McEntee? Or Mary Lou McDonald? There’d rightly have been uproar. You can’t say that sort of thing about a woman. It would be recognised as a horrible, odious, thoroughly sexist remark.
Is it less odious to say it about a gay man? The original sexist meaning is still in there. But arguably, it is given a new, equally nasty, homophobic twist.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many reasons to criticise the Government. Their response to the homeless crisis has been woefully inadequate. The cost over-runs in relation to the National Children’s Hospital beggar belief. They are not doing remotely enough to provide primary education that is free of denominational discrimination and bias. They have failed, and are failing, young people, who – when they want to establish their independence and leave home – are faced with a dystopian nightmare reality, in which 60% of their income has to be forked out in rent. They have stood idly by, while vulture funds have been allowed to cream-off profits from the Irish mortgage market. Along with every other government, they have failed miserably to deal with the extraordinary rise of surveillance capitalism, and the abuses of individual rights that have been perpetrated by the tech companies. And so on…
But writing a letter to Kylie Minogue is not one of them.
In the normal course, there is nothing wrong with the Taoiseach, or indeed any Government minister, welcoming a major star to Dublin or to Ireland. It has been done a hundred times. People in the international film industry have made the observation that one thing which distinguishes Ireland, as a location for shooting movies, is that Irish politicians are accessible. They show a genuine interest. They meet the producers, the directors and the stars. They have worked with the IDA or Screen Ireland to make production companies feel that they are welcome. They are not snobs.
Kylie has recorded here, in Windmill Lane Studios, on Ringsend Road in Dublin. She could be convinced to record in Ireland again. Equally, she might let fans all over the world know that she loved her time in Ireland. The fact that the Taoiseach wrote a personal note to her, and had his picture taken with her, does convey a message. Not that Leo Varadkar is a so-called “camera slut”, but that he is like most people in Ireland: potentially up for a bit of fun. It is what visitors to Ireland most enjoy about the place: that the Irish are nice, warm, friendly and gregarious.
There is another, less personal, way of looking at it too.
Where Brexit is concerned, along with their European counterparts, the Irish team has played a difficult hand extremely well. That is down, in part at least, to the diplomatic corps. But it is also true that our politicians, across the board, have contributed positively – including members of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein, Labour, People Before Profit and other opposition parties. Collectively, in an extraordinarily difficult and challenging moment for Ireland, they have put the interests of the people who live on this island ahead of petty party rivalries.
In contrast, in the UK, the wider national interest has been sacrificed completely by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, in a desperate bid to hold the Tory party together. The people of Northern Ireland don’t count at all. And Labour have played the same game, more interested in being able to blame the Conservatives than in working to find the least damaging way forward for either the UK or those counties that are north of the border in Ireland. As a result, disillusionment with politics is rampant across the UK, and the British political system is on the brink of collapse.
Some might see this as a good thing. And maybe, somewhere down the road, historians will look back and see it as a defining moment on the path to a better, brighter future. More likely, however, it will be judged for what it currently looks like: a shameful episode, which can only exacerbate divisions, promote the poisonous interests of the far right, and plunge three and a bit countries into a potentially calamitous period of turmoil and uncertainty in which racism and hatred is ushered back into the mainstream, as has happened in the US under Donald Trump.
There is a lot wrong with our political system. And, for sure, our politicians cannot claim to be paragons of wisdom and good judgement all the time. But compared to the UK, in fairness, we are in pretty decent shape right now. To the extent, apparently, that a letter from the Taoiseach to an Aussie pop princess is worth getting into a lather about. Next time Theresa May goes onstage, she might do so to the backing of ‘I Should Be So Lucky’.