Leo Varadkar wearing a Dublin Cycling Campaign tshirt

The Cycle of Politics

From his tenure as Minister for Transport, to his participation in Dublin City Triathlon, Leo Varadkar’s relationship with cycling has shifted gears through the years. But what does the future hold for cycling in Ireland with a new Taoiseach, and for Leo himself?

A Transport Minister

Leo Varadkar served as Ireland’s Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport from 2011 to 2014. During his tenure, several key developments and policy decisions made headlines, reflecting his approach to transportation, the promotion of tourism, and the support for sport across Ireland.

Photo Chris Bellew / Copyright Fennell Photography 2014. via merronstreet.ie
  1. Infrastructure Development and Investment: Leo Varadkar was involved in significant investments in transportation infrastructure, including road improvements and public transport enhancements. His term saw the continuation or completion of several major road projects and efforts to improve public transportation networks.
  2. Tourism Promotion Initiatives: Recognizing tourism’s critical role in Ireland’s economy, Varadkar supported various initiatives to boost international and domestic tourism. This included campaigns such as The Gathering Ireland 2013 (remember that?), a year-long event to encourage the Irish diaspora to visit their homeland, which significantly boosted tourist numbers.
  3. Cycling and Active Transport: While the promotion of cycling and active transport became more prominent in later years, Varadkar’s tenure did see discussions around improving cycling infrastructure and safety for cyclists. However, cycling advocates often sought greater commitment and funding for cycling infrastructure.
  4. Public Transport Reforms: Varadkar’s period in office was marked by efforts to reform and improve public transport services, including bus and rail. This included initiatives aimed at increasing the efficiency and reliability of public transport.
  5. Sports Funding and Support: As Minister for Sport, Varadkar was involved in allocating funding and support for sports programs and facilities across Ireland, aiming to promote sports participation at all levels and support high-performance athletes.

It’s worth noting that while Varadkar’s tenure as Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport laid the groundwork for various policies and initiatives, the full impact of many of these efforts would only become apparent in subsequent years. According to ChatGPT at least.

And always one with an eye for power, the young and ambitious Leo was keen to court the All-Powerful Cycle Lobby™️ by opening the Dublin Cycling Campaign conference in 2012.

A Triathlete

Participating in the 2017 Dublin City Triathlon, then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar blended his political prominence with a personal commitment to fitness, underscoring the importance of an active lifestyle. His involvement in this challenging event, which spans swimming, cycling, and running across Dublin’s iconic locales, served as a powerful inspiration, demonstrating that balancing a demanding job with physical activity is achievable.

Creator: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane | Credit: ©INPHO/Bryan Keane. via StickyBottle.com

Varadkar’s presence not only highlighted the event but also advocated for the health and mental benefits of sports, echoing his government’s support for accessible sports facilities and events. By competing, he set a strong personal example and spotlighted the essential role of sporting events in promoting community health and resilience.

A Taoiseach

Following his result in the Dublin City Triathlon, Leo was made Taoiseach. Look, if you want facts, go read Wikipedia.

In 2020 things got interesting, with a “grand coalition” of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. This heralded an unprecedented change to the funding of active travel.

Image credit: Newstalk.com

Whether it was due to the smouldering eyes and oil-stained ankles of Eamon Ryan, pressure from advocacy groups such as the Irish Cycling Campaign (then Cyclist.ie) or just an abiding respect for active travel, an impressive €1m a day was allocated for walking and cycling.

The pandemic has entered the chat.

Typical. You wait ages for an earth-shattering event, then two come along at once.

Terrible though it was, the COVID-19 pandemic created a unique situation in which huge improvements were made in rapid-build cycle lanes, footpath improvements, parklets and more.

As someone with a bank account (we love ya Bertie!) Leo Varadkar surely appreciated the return from investing in active travel. We hope the next person to climb into the saddle has the same view.

A Trailblazer?

As the first openly-gay Taoiseach, and a long-standing advocate for equality, it’s not a huge leap to think that Leo might continue to blaze a trail for equality and equity.

Perhaps in the realm of climate change, to follow the path of Mary Robinson, advocating for a just transition.

Or, maybe Leo will take the road ridden by Enda Kenny, as a nordic-style crime-fighter on a bike (we didn’t have time to research this, we’re just going on the photo)

Former Taoiseach Iarnród Edna

Whatever trail he chooses, Leo Varadkar undoubtedly has an interesting future ahead.

The political future for cycling in Ireland seems less clear. With up to a year before the next general election, a new leader and a new political landscape makes route ahead less certain.

The only certainty is that the Irish Cycling Campaign will continue to work tirelessly to improve the day to day experience of cycling in Ireland. Help us to secure the future of cycling in Ireland by getting involved.

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