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Varadkar long on words but short on detail in campaign to be next leader

By Fionnan Sheahan

Leo Varadkar coined his own slogan at the weekend when he declared he wanted to lead a party of "people who get up early in the morning".

What does that mean?

Presumably, he's talking about people who get up for work or drop the kids to school. It ties in with his current campaign to cut down on social welfare fraud.

Along the same lines, there was his statement about what he saw as two sectors of society: "Too often, we have allowed Irish society to be divided into one group of people who pay for everything but get little in return due to means-tests, and another group who believe they should be entitled to everything for free and that someone else should pay for it."

And his pledge to cut taxes for middle income workers.

"Taxes should be low, simple and fair," he wrote two months ago, saying high tax rates "make it harder to attract skilled, qualified and talented people home".

How he will achieve this and within what timeframe, is not yet outlined.

On Brexit, Varadkar wants to push to keep Northern Ireland in the EU single market and seeks special arrangements to ensure an 'invisible' border. But does he believe we should achieve this by being closer to Brussels or London in the Brexit negotiations?

And where is he on the prospects of a United Ireland in the future?

Varadkar has masterfully emerged as the presumptive winner of the Fine Gael leadership contest and Taoiseach-elect with a parochial and parish pump campaign focusing on the party's TDs and Senators.

He has undoubtedly been aided by Simon Coveney's neglect of this 'constituency', particularly during his time as Agriculture Minister.

Fine Gael parliamentarians like the idea of Varadkar's appeal to the electorate based upon his profile and sharp debating style.

Ironically, for a man who characterises himself as "has been known to talk too much", Varadkar has said precious little on what he will actually do once in the Taoiseach's office.

He has spoken of a "new social contract", where those who contribute to the system will benefit from it, but has not provided any detail.

And where does he stand on the single most divisive issue to hit his party over the past generation?

After all, abortion did result in Fine Gael losing five TDs and two Senators.

Asked repeatedly this weekend, Varadkar said he is in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment - the part of the Irish constitution that effectively bans abortion in the Republic - as it is too restrictive, but a decision was needed on what restrictions should replace it.

He refused to be drawn on his own views. He copped out. His personal opinion does actually matter if it influences his thinking as Taoiseach when it comes to deciding upon a referendum.

And while in that space, where is he on the future of the health service, which he failed so significantly to impact upon?

Where is he on public sector reform and accountability?

Of course, as he has the victory in the bag, why would he do anything to jeopardise that position and give any hostages to fortune?

It's hardly worthy, though, of a leader of the country.

Coveney summed up the depth of the campaign thus far yesterday: "So far, it's been a pretty superficial one."

He says it's important "people are challenged".

He has produced a document of his policy priorities. Again, it scant on the fine detail, but starts a debate on a Minister for Infrastructure, rebalancing development in the country and a United Ireland.

What's Varadkar's vision? He's been promising to set it out for long enough. It's an internal popularity process without any policy.

The elevation of a new Taoiseach, with a questionable ministerial record, but who is adored by the party grassroots, is not without its precedent. Leo Varadkar might like the comparisons with Garret Fitzgerald. So far, he's more of a Brian Cowen, getting the top job by showing intellectual ability and being pally with the backbenchers.

Will the Taoiseach-elect please stand up?

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