During his tenure as Minister for Health, the now Taoiseach drew considerable media ire for his perceived disinterested analysis of the nation’s hospitals. One satirist dubbed him Leo ‘it was broken when I got here’ Varadkar.
The Taoiseach presides over a style of governance that sees ministers as bystanders rather than the people with their hands on the levers of power.
This attitude is not confined to politics and is sometimes evident in the Church. Take the Archbishop of Dublin as an example. I have wondered aloud in this column before about Diarmuid Martin’s perplexing ability to diagnose all the problems of the Church without offering anything by way of solutions.
It’s ground I’m loathe to revisit. Opinions expressed about the archbishop’s leadership in the past have often led to blistering critiques of the standards of Catholic newspapers in subsequent speeches. One develops a thick skin as a newspaper editor.
For what it’s worth, I think his analysis is often piercingly accurate. But, what’s odd is that Dr Martin often critiques the problems that afflict the Church in Ireland as if he is surveying the scene from a distance rather than as the leader of the country’s largest diocese for more than 15 years.
It’s a long time to effect fundamental change if one is so minded to do. After all, a US president only gets four years – eight if he is lucky – to leave his mark.
This week Dr Martin turned his attention to the national seminary at Maynooth – an institution that he has been a trustee of for the past 15 years. The college, he told the Irish Times is “still trapped in an old vision”.
Maynooth is not above criticism, and nor should it be. The seminary was built to house up to 1,000 students and now just a couple of dozen aspirants to the priesthood rattle around in the neogothic buildings. Controversy at the college has been well publicised and the challenge of maintaining high standards with limited resources is self-evident.
So, what of the future? “Whatever the solution, it must be very different to what we have today,” Dr Martin is reported as saying about Maynooth.
It’s a long time to effect fundamental change if one is so minded to do. After all, a US president only gets four years – eight if he is lucky”
It reminds me of a man I know who was running a struggling bakery. He spent a fortune hiring management consultants to reinvigorate the business only to get a report which told him that to survive he needs to sell more bread.
The archbishop deserves huge credit for his decisive handling of clerical sexual abuse, but he has often appeared helpless in effecting the kind of reforms he seems to believe the Church in Ireland needs.
Diarmuid Martin is due to retire next year. Despite his contention that he doesn’t want to fuel speculation about succession, he often speaks about his successor. Who that man will be is a matter for Pope Francis, but the next Archbishop of Dublin will have to lead where Diarmuid has failed. He will have to show people that he is a shepherd capable of driving reform and change rather than an observer.
To borrow a theme from the corporate world, he will have to manage rather than be a management consultant.