Taoiseach does not identify as ‘woke’

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said he does not consider himself to be woke.

Mr Varadkar made the comments as he rejected an assertion that the Irish Government’s recent defeats in referenda campaigns were due to a rejection of “woke” issues.

Speaking to reporters during a series of engagements in Washington DC for St Patrick’s Day, he said: “No, I think people considered the proposition that was put to them and listened to the arguments and decided to vote against it. I wouldn’t read anything else into it.”

Asked if he considered himself to be woke, Mr Varadkar added: “I don’t think so but I’ve never really been fully sure what woke and anti-woke means.

“Like, people who say they’re anti-woke just seem to be against whatever new idea or new concept is popular at the time – but ‘no’ is the short answer.”

Earlier in the week, Mr Varadkar described himself as a “reformer” as he outlined his record in Government.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of significant reforms in Ireland and in the seven years in which I’ve either been been [premier or deputy premier], particularly around pay and changes we’ve made around statutory sick pay and the living wage, giving every worker access to pensions, the expansion of things like maternity leave and parental leave and so on.

“And obviously have worked hard on issues like Brexit, where we’re in a much better place and during the pandemic too and then, of course, reforms that have made our country a more equal place.”

He made the comments after being asked if he agreed with Joe Kennedy III’s assessment that Mr Varadkar was a “radical” due to being in Government when Ireland passed referenda on the expansion of marriage equality to same-sex partnerships and removing restrictions on abortion from the constitution.

However, the Irish premier said he did not see himself as a “radical”.

On the day before the referenda vote, leaked advice from the Irish attorney general to the Government on the wording of the constitutional amendments on family and care issues was published by news platform The Ditch.

Mr Varadkar said that subsequent commentary “misrepresented” what the advice said.

Attorney General Rossa Fanning is also in Washington DC with the Taoiseach.

Asked if he believed the attorney general’s advice should be published by the Government in future, Mr Varadkar said: “Well, we haven’t had a chance to discuss that.

“We’ve been at the same events but we need to have a proper sit-down discussion at some stage. We’ll do that as soon as we can.”

The use of the phrase “strive to support” in the referenda on family care was criticised as being too weak by some campaigners.

Mr Varadkar added: “Advice is written in a particular way. Advice for publication is written in a different way too.

“It’s our long-standing policy not to publish the advice of the attorney general but I think if people see the leak, they’ll see that the term strive was a strong term, that it was judicial.

“There was concern in some Government departments that it would leave the State open to claims and open to cases but we thought that was a risk worth taking to put that right in the constitution but people decided not to do that.

“In relation to the issue of durable relationships you know, you’ll never have an attorney general who will ever advise that any language is not without some degree of risk and I think that was kind of misrepresented really.”