An era of high-tech censorship could be on the cards for Ireland in the wake of a new controversy involving Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.
Images emerging on the internet this week showed Varadkar, in a night club, appearing to kiss a man who is not his partner.
While the Tanaiste remained silent, his coalition colleague and Taoiseach Micheál Martin lashed out at the Tiktok social media network on which the video clip appeared. Demanding the images be removed, he threatened “far more regulation of social media platforms”.
It is the latest controversy involving the Tanaiste, who is set to be reinstalled as the 26 County Taoiseach on Saturday as part of a coalition deal with Fianna Fail.
Varadkar’s behaviour has already drawn hundreds of complaints online. The night club incident comes at a time of a severe cost of living crisis, and as record freezing temperatures descend on Ireland’s growing population of homeless.
But it is only the latest scandal involving the 43-year-old politician. In 2020, he faced a career-threatening corruption investigation over his decision to leak a confidential medical contract to a friend. Also that year, he was seen to publicly flout Covid regulations by drinking in the Phoenix Park.
His latest controversy has been greeted with an awkward silence by the political establishment. Between a public sense of taboo and a compliant mainstream media, sex scandals involving politicians are unheard of in Ireland, and political leaders rarely face questions over their family life.
Micheál Martin denounced what he claimed “was a breach of privacy fundamentally” But there were reports of “growing disquiet” within Fine Gael over the controversy, just days before he is due to become Taoiseach again.
After several days of silence, Varadkar finally responsed by resorting to a defence used by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he was beset by scandal.
“Everyone makes errors in judgment,” he said. “You wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t but, I hope, when it has come to the big calls, whether it was the reaction to the pandemic, whether it was Brexit, whether it was managing the economy, that I’ve made right decisions.”