Updated: 27/05/17 : 05:51:02
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Varadkar takes showband route today to Sligo

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

LEO VARADKAR'S itinerary seems much like that of the old showband stars of the 1960s as he heads for Sligo today, Saturday.

In those two decades before he was born, and when Ireland wrote its modern social history, showbands seemed to rule the roost.

But it was managements and booking agents in small halls who called the shots.

Hence a band with a big name might still have to play Belfast, Cork, Letterkenny,  Mitchelstown on four successive nights.

Sligo is where you'll find Leo Varadkar today, pressing the party members flesh and fleshing out answers to their concerns.

In the past 48 hours he has taken part in party hustings in Dublin and Carlow.

Tonight those party hustings hit Ballinasloe and tomorrow night it's wrap-up in Cork. 

Away Game

It could also feel like finishing a league campaign for the leadership of Fine Gael with an away game on his chief opponents ground.

Seven days ago it looked so different -- much much brighter, clearer.

Seven days from now it could look so different -- much, much brighter, clearer.

All of the Fine Gael hustings transmit live on the party's Facebook page.

For my money, Simon Coveney won a clear points victory on the first night.

That was further reflected in Friday's IPSOS MRBI poll for The Irish Times, on opinions canvassed earlier in the week.

The poll figures revealed that Simon Coveney was the number one choice for Fine Gael voters. That can easily change.

Figures in the opinion poll also showed ordinary voters having a preference for Coveney over Varadkar. That can change, maybe less easily.

Last night I watched the entire two hour debate between the candidates in Carlow.

Also watching and listening with me was someone who knows a thing or two, or three, about Irish party politics.

Her clear impression was hearing an undercurrent of niggling, mostly from Leo. I concur 100%.

We also agreed that Varadkar appeared to be reciting a (long) script in his opening address.

Minus Score

For me, that script was clientelist. Read it back, Leo. It also sounded -- rightly or wrongly -- like the product of a script production line. Minus score, each count.

Panic? Maybe not. Contradictions? Aplenty. The front runner remains Leo but last night in Carlow he seemed to 'run' a wee bit.

Example: He is opposed to power in the party and country being centralised.

But if he becomes Taoiseach he plans to put his paw-print on every policy. Every MInister would have to come through the Taoiseach.

Paced Passion

Centralised, yes. And, and that model looks remarkably like the old Stickies model since adopted by Sinn Féin. Presumably, neither camp advising Leo.

Last night, Simon Coveney failed -- publicly anyway - to press home any of the advantages he had won in the previous 24 hours.

His (public) performance lacked the paced passion of the previous night in the Red Cow hotel.

Seemed Flat

In fact, Coveney seemed flat last night and one or two answers were, well, long winded.

Varadkar won Thursday's debate segment on economics. Last night he bagged the 'Brexit' debate hands down, and impressively.

The crowd in the hall swayed one way, then the other. It was hard to judge their overall mood.

Moderator Gavin Duffy is probably correct when he says the party faithful sees TWO excellent candidates.

Sligo Trip

Last night -- with today's Sligo trip maybe in mind -- Leo Varadkar honed in on the absence of motorway(s) in the west and north west.

He musta had Sligo on his mind; it is unlikely Varadkar got votes from the Carlow, Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny audience in talking about motorway(s) up here.

Of course, there was a lengthy exchange in the Dáil on Thursday making the case for a motorway to Sligo.

The exchange was between junior Minister Sean Canney and Sligo TD Eamon Scanlon.

IDA scouts for suitable locations for factories seldom want to go beyond Mullingar, said Scanlon.

Leo Varadkar committed himself last night in Carlow to some 'post hustings' on the spot evaluation of the case for motorway(s) in the west and north west.

A mile of new motorway now costs £30 million sterling per mile, it is estimated by the UK's Highway Agency. 

Those are sobering stats and junior MInister Sean Canney hardly overstated it this week when he said it would ''take a bit of effort to get there.''

Western Flank 

In more senses than one and Leo Varadkar knows full well his western flank of supporters won't shift if he comprehends the ''effort'' it physically takes to get to Sligo and Donegal.

Eamon Scanlon spelled some of it out in the Dail this week: ''There are motorways everywhere in the south of the country.

''But there is nothing when one reaches Mullingar when travelling from Dublin. 

''Galway is fortunate to have a motorway all the way to the city, but the same is not true when one travels to Sligo

Not Interested

''When I spoke to the IDA, I was told that when it brings people to the north west, those who make decisions are not interested once they reach Mullingar and find there is only a single carriageway road. 

''They are not interested in travelling to Sligo or the north west because of the lack of a proper road structure. 

''Unfortunately, that is the reality. It is not the fault of the IDA either,'' said Scanlon.

He added: ''The people who make decisions on location are company executives. Whatever chance one has with proper infrastructure, one has no chance without it. 

''That is why the Government should reconsider its approach,'' said Scanlon.

Leo Varadkar still looks likely than not this Saturday morning to win his party's leadership. The Dáil alone will decide who is Taoiseach.

He has certainly put motorways in the west and north west on the agenda.

They will stay there until he takes them off, or is defeated in an election.

It is difficult to comprehend how a Dublin Taoiseach would so radically ''rebalance'' -- the next buzzword -- away from the capital.

Still, showband stars half a century ago would have loved motorway(s) standards as they dashed around the roads of the 32 counties.