Even though I’ve written quite a few murder mysteries, I’m not a conspiracy theorist.

Published: 26 March 2024

So I was not tempted to indulge in wild speculation at any stage of the hysteria around the disappearance from public view of the woman I call Princess Catherine: I don’t think the tabloids had the right to rename her for their own convenience.

I thought she was ill, and trying to get better in private.

The dull explanation is usually the right one.

I admit that the unexpected resignation of Leo Varadkar did cause me to wonder if there was a scandal looming, but it was only for a moment.

The fellow is exhausted. He has been at or near the top of Irish politics since 2011 and just wants out. And being only 45, he and his partner wanted to have some unscrutinised fun.

That shrewd political commentator, the Irish Times’s Pat Leahy, summarised best what had happened to Varadkar. Having had a reasonably successful period as Taoiseach from 2017, he ran a lacklustre campaign that failed to persuade the electorate to back Fine Gael in the 2020 general election and didn’t much enjoy being Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) in the coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

I think we fail to acknowledge when we criticise politicians that the demands made on them these days are quite often utterly unreasonable, not least since social media burst on the scene and they have almost no privacy.

When it was his turn to become Taoiseach in December 2022, Varadkar’s supporters were waiting for him to inspire party and country, “but it was like waiting for a kettle to boil… turns out the kettle wasn’t plugged in”.

He had anyway disappointed many party members by shifting politically leftwards from the right of centre and the ill-thought-out proposals for woke changes to the constitution brought a humiliating rejection. In his resignation speech he said with commendable honesty that he “was not the best person for the job anymore”.

Varadkar came to be dismissed by his enemies as lightweight and unprincipled. The 37-year-old ferociously ambitious Simon Harris, a minister since 2014, who will take over on April 9, is already criticised as a featherweight who changes his clothes to suit the political season. As a teenager he switched from Fianna Fáil to Fine Gael. When he was elected a TD in 2011, he was uncompromisingly pro-life, but soon became an enthusiastic supporter of abortion.

Having learned from the referendum result he is returning hastily to traditional Fine Gael values like supporting farmers, small businesses and law and order. “In the hours, days and weeks ahead,” he told a party meeting on Sunday, “I will be going back to the decent, hardworking grassroots of this party and listening carefully to what you want to see happen next.”

At health he floundered like most ministers in that dreadful department, but he came into his own as Minister for Further and Higher Education, travelling around Ireland striking the right notes for the young. He had dropped out of university himself, was not ashamed of it, and changed policy to widen third-level education and embrace apprenticeships.

He was described to The Sunday Times as having incredible drive and talent and knowing the levers that push the bureaucracy to deliver. In a backhanded compliment, one of his anonymous supporters said: “He’s a total narcissist, he want to make sure there are results so it will reflect well on him.”

There is no doubt about his organising ability. Within five hours of Varadkar’s resignation, he had frightened off all the other fancied contenders.

Ferociously energetic, an excellent communicator and exploiter of social media, he is being nicknamed the TikTok Taoiseach.

Harris has no experience of Northern Ireland and generally follows the party line, which includes deep hostility to Sinn Féin on the ruling out of sharing power with them. In a memorable passage in his Sunday speech to the party, he referred to the funeral of Pearse McAuley, one of the killers of Garda Jerry McCabe. “In a week where I saw the tricolour of this republic draped over the coffin of a garda killer, I say shame — let’s take our flag back.”

Let’s hope that at least he manages that.

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