POLITICS is never boring with Leo Varadkar around. He was only a "wet day" in the Dáil – to use Bertie Ahern's phrase – when he got stuck into the then taoiseach and, for good measure, took a pop at both Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Leo clearly subscribes to the theory that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
It was hard to know what to make of Varadkar's outburst at that time. On the one hand, you could see why the young guns in Fine Gael were giddy about it. This was a sign of a new resolve and toughness. Fine Gael wasn't going to be content to play second fiddle to Fianna Fáil anymore. It was happy to get down and slug it out with its rivals if that is what it took.
But on the other, there was a feeling that you need to earn the right to have a go at not just the taoiseach but the prime minister of Britain and the former president of the US. Not even 30 at that point, and still a new TD, Varadkar perhaps hadn't built enough credit to do so.
But the attack made people sit up and take notice. This guy was going to make an impact. And that has certainly proved to be the case over the past two and a half years where he has shown enormous ability and intellect. Thrown into a hugely challenging front bench portfolio in Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Varadkar hasn't just held his own, he has prospered. He made major contributions to the exposure of the goings-on in Fás and put a huge amount of work into highlighting the number of quangos established over the past decade.
He has consistently been on top of his brief and looks very at home in a television studio. Although criticised as being right wing, particularly by people in the Labour Party, that is a gross oversimplification. But because of his obvious ability, the comparisons with a young Michael McDowell (or maybe even Michael Portillo) do not seem misplaced.
Like McDowell, he is well able to stir things up, but there were signs until recently of a more measured political persona developing. That was until he went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid.
A couple of weeks earlier, Varadkar had raised eyebrows in the Dáil with a savage and personal attack on Tánaiste Mary Coughlan.
"On Frontline last night, somebody in the audience talked about your representation of us abroad and said that there was a cringe factor to it all. Another article in the paper said that the IDA are embarrassed by you when you go overseas with them. Others have said that you are unable to talk to business people and that when you do, the language you use is often inappropriate and vulgar. What do you have to say to those who level the charge at you that you're not suitable?"
Politics is a rough, tough business, but it's still rare that you hear such stinging criticism of a TD in the Dáil. It had echoes of Garret FitzGerald's much criticised "flawed pedigree" speech about Charlie Haughey.
As with his attack on Ahern in 2007, it could be argued that Varadkar was merely saying in public what people were saying in private. But the more widespread view around Leinster House was that it was unnecessarily unkind, personal and rough.
But it's one thing for Varadkar to lay into a Fianna Fáil minister, it's a different matter entirely for him to nobble a legend of his own party.
"You're no Sean Lemass. You're no Jack Lynch and you're no John Bruton," he told Brian Cowen in the Dáil last Tuesday. "You're a Garret FitzGerald. You've tripled the national debt, you've effectively destroyed the country…"
And just in case anyone was in doubt about his assessment of the last Fine Gael leader to win a general election, Varadkar added that Cowen should "enjoy writing your boring articles in the Irish Times in a few years time". Ouch!
The Dublin West TD may have been primarily aiming for Cowen, but he should have known that there was always going to be much more interest in his criticism of FitzGerald. While there is irritation within Fine Gael over FitzGerald's intervention into the debate on Nama and the public finances last year, 'Garret the Good' is still a revered figure in the party and Varadkar's comments went down like a lead balloon among his peers.
While it wasn't his smartest move, there is something refreshing about Varadkar's candour. It makes a welcome change from the rewriting of history that was going on at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last weekend when some were attempting to portray that disastrous Fine Gael-Labour government of 1982-87 as the saviour of the economy.
Varadkar was simply doing what he does – calling it as he sees it. There should be a place for that in Irish politics but as Michael McDowell's chequered electoral record shows, it doesn't necessarily pay dividends at the ballot box.
Not that Varadkar has to worry about holding his seat in the next general election. He is a shoo-in for re-election and will also be a cabinet minister. He also has the ability to go the extra distance and one day become Taoiseach. But realpolitik means that he will only do so if he reins in his occasional enfant terrible tendencies.