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Surrealing in the Years: Leo Varadkar is not good at pop culture references

SOMETIMES IT’S POSSIBLE for a journalist to come up against a story which leaves them out of their depth.

Take for example the seizure of 2.2 tonnes of cocaine off the coast of Cork this week. Depending on the journalist’s level of expertise in this field, they might be left asking themselves: just how much cocaine is that really? What is the most effective way to illustrate over two tonnes of cocaine? How big would the pile in the final scene of Scarface have been if it contained 2.2 tonnes?

Of course, the Gardaí used photos of the haul to lead their social media celebration of the seizure, wrapping up the cocaine as if it were bales of hay that the farm children could climb and play upon in summertime. 

The seizure – the largest in the history of the state in terms of tonnage – had several cinematic details: the trawler, ‘mothership’, the Army Ranger Wing, the race against time to board before the storm, the copious amounts of cocaine. If it were a movie, it would probably star 1980s Harrison Ford. 

But this being Ireland, it’s only right that such a major PR coup for the Gardaí comes at a time of great tumult. Rank-and-file Gardaí currently plan to take direct action against their employer by not agreeing to work overtime on Budget Day and 10 October and Halloween night 31 October, as well as 3, 17, 24 October. There will also be a full strike on 10 November.

It’s a hard lesson for the Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. Some days you get a record-breaking amount of cocaine, other days you lose a vote of no confidence. You win some, you lose some.

"This pond's too small for a feud among frogs".

Exclusive: U2 frontman Bono says a united Ireland in his lifetime would be 'wonderful'. #U2 #AI #U2UVSPHERE

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) September 28, 2023

Hardly a wet week back into this latest season of The Dáil, and Leo Varadkar is already upsetting people with his pop culture comparisons.

Varadkar has a history of pop culture references getting him into trouble. His damning verdict of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (“Tiny Tim should get a job,” he said back when he was a backbencher, as a joke, we think) – is perhaps chief among them.

He also raised a few eyebrows in the early days of Covid by quoting Mean Girls and Lord of the Rings.

Varadkar fell into the same trap this week when responding to Paul Murphy, who had compared the government’s latest welfare proposals to the plot of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake – an award-winning film about the difficulty of navigating the bureaucracy of the UK welfare system.

“There are other programmes, like Benefits Street, and so on, which show a very different picture. Of course, as is always the case, the truth lies somewhere in between,” the Taoiseach told Murphy.

Maybe we should not be thinking about policies that affect our most vulnerable through the lens of an era of Channel 4 that also produced such TV shows as Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Embarrassing Bodies. What next? Health policy derived from groundbreaking docuseries Supersize vs Superskinny?

Perhaps the most empathetic way to approach such discussions is not by calling to mind a show that was designed to make audiences angry at poor people. This seems especially applicable during a week when the latest figures showed record numbers of children accessing emergency accommodation in Ireland.

Still, it was a little bit less jarring than the time he paid tribute to Avicii by telling everyone that Wake Me Up was his “song of the Camino”.

Besides, he was not alone as a prominent Irish figure making weird statements this week.

Yes, my friends, we’ve had another one of those glorious weeks where Bono decides to open his mouth and speak about something he is not qualified to speak about.

Speaking to Channel 4 (they’re getting a real runout this week for some reason), Bono compared the prospect of a united Ireland to a possible “marital arrangement”, saying “we might not be at the falling in love stage, but we’re dating,” which sounds like the kind of thing you’d say when you’re abroad and somebody asks “What’s the deal with the north-south issue?” and you realise you don’t actually know that much about it so you say something that is guaranteed the kill the conversation stone dead.

“This pond is too small for a feud among frogs,” Bono went on to muse, just unloading the entire clip into the carcass of the conversation he had already murdered. They should put that on a mural. See if that solves it.

He did add that Ireland and Northern Ireland are becoming “more attractive to each other” and elsewhere referred to the nation of America as “the greatest song the world’s never heard”. Just imagine having to be on the other side of that conversation. Who calls a marriage a “marital arrangement”?

This week did have some good news, though! A teenage vandal in the United Kingdom sawed down a beloved landmark tree and the BBC devoted an entire live-blog to it. A whole news-cycle devoted to mourning the fate of a tree. Doesn’t that sound like something we would do? Obviously it’s a shame about the tree, but at least this week it’s them and not us. Bono probably wouldn’t appreciate that attitude.