Leo Varadkar nightclub footage triggers privacy debate in Ireland

A video of Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s tánaiste, socialising in a nightclub has triggered a debate about the right to privacy and regulation of social media.

The brief clip of the deputy prime minister was clandestinely recorded in a Dublin nightclub earlier this month and has racked up millions of views on multiple platforms.

Varadkar told reporters this week he did not wish to comment on a personal matter but hinted at regret. “Everyone makes errors in judgment. You wouldn’t be a human being if you didn’t.” He defended his record in office, saying he got the big calls – the Covid pandemic, Brexit, the economy – right.

The taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, branded the video a violation of his colleague’s right to a private life.

Martin said pending legislation would create Ireland’s first social media regulator and that new EU directives would tighten the rules for tech firms that operated such platforms. Individual users also needed to be held accountable, he told the Irish Independent. “We are now entering into a new era where there’ll be far more regulation of social media platforms.”

Varadkar, 43, came out as gay in 2015 and has been accompanied by his partner, Matt Barrett, at official engagements. Under the ruling coalition’s power-sharing agreement the Fine Gael leader is to take over from Martin as taoiseach – a role Varadkar held in the previous government – this weekend.

The video, reportedly taken at a gay nightclub in central Dublin, went viral last week but mainstream media ignored it out of respect for Varadkar’s privacy. However, after TikTok removed the video several media outlets reported the company’s decision, and Martin and Varadkar spoke out about people’s right to privacy.

Some commentators on social media accused Irish media of double standards in reporting the private lives of politicians and public figures in other countries while shielding politicians and public figures in Ireland. Others said Varadkar, as an incoming head of government, had a responsibility to be mindful when in public spaces.

An Irish Independent editorial said on Tuesday: “An uncomfortable truth accompanying any degree of fame is that your privacy diminishes in proportion to the elevation in status. The debate around whether this is fair or not has almost become irrelevant. It has merely been accepted as the way things are.”

A leaked video of the Finnish prime minister, Sanna Marin, dancing and drinking with friends at a private residence prompted a similar debate in August.

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