'A government under Leo will bring hope for people. It will restore the lost decade'
Junior Finance Minister Michael D'Arcy changes stance on Garda chief, writes Niall O'Connor
Enda Kenny was always a welcome visitor in the D'Arcy household. Having soldiered for years alongside Minister of State Michael D'Arcy senior, Mr Kenny often stayed with the family in their modest Wexford home.
It may therefore have come as a particular surprise to the former Fine Gael leader when Michael junior chose the opposing side during the infamous 2010 heave.
Not only did the Wexford TD back Richard Bruton, he took on a leading media role on behalf of the rebels, articulating to the public exactly why Mr Kenny was the wrong man to lead the party.
And so, like many others, Mr D'Arcy paid the price for backing the wrong horse.
He has spent much of the past seven years in the political wilderness, a Fine Gael outcast per sé.
It's widely accepted within Fine Gael that Mr D'Arcy was one of a number of TDs whose prospects of one day becoming a minister hinged on a new leader taking charge.
And so, with a new leadership contest looming large, the dairy farmer from Co Wexford aligned himself with Leo Varadkar. This time, he chose the winning side.
"Leo is a young man, very intelligent, very capable, very bright. He's not perfect but he is really, really good," Mr D'Arcy says as he walks along the pitch of his local Kilanerin GAA club.
The club itself suffered, like many others, from the impact of the recession.
Young players emigrated to find work. Many will never return.
For Mr D'Arcy, it is now up to the new Taoiseach and all ministers to address what he describes as the "lost decade".
"We've lost a decade, that's what has happened over the last nine or 10 years. That's difficult. It's time to move to the next stage and that's to give people a bit of hope," he says.
"Leo is the right person to lead those efforts," he adds.
Mr D'Arcy was an outspoken backbencher, most notably during his time on the Banking Inquiry and when commenting on issues relating to An Garda Síochána.
In February, Mr D'Arcy became the first member of his party to call for Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan to step aside for the duration of the commission of investigation into allegations of a smear campaign against Sergeant Maurice McCabe.
He said the "names and reputations" of all gardaí are in "disrepute" because of allegations against Ms O'Sullivan.
So, 16 months on and now the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, does he still hold these views?
"While I don't sit at Cabinet, I am obliged to accept the overall view of Government. I won't be commenting on that, people heard and read what I said then. That was my position at that stage," he says.
It's pointed out to Mr D'Arcy he is not answering the question. Does he still believe the Commissioner should step aside?
"I will be adhering to the Government line," he says.
Which is the Government does have confidence in the Garda Commissioner? "Correct," he adds.
So that's your position? "Yes."
So you've changed your position. "Well, it's my position."
Mr D'Arcy admits he expressed an interest, during conversations with his new Taoiseach, about the prospect of serving in finance.
He will now head up the Government's 2020 International Financial Services Strategy, which aims to grow the number of jobs in the sector to 45,000 by 2019.
But Mr D'Arcy wants to change the criteria, which currently states that 30pc of the jobs should be outside of Dublin.
"It's a criticism that has been thrown at the existing Government and the previous administration that 'all roads lead to Dublin'," the minister says.
He said he wants to increase the 30pc figure so that investment can spread to parts of rural Ireland.
"We need to lessen the challenges that financial services companies are facing as a result of Brexit," he says.
"I really want the industry to know that I'm ambitious for the sector.
"I hope my ambitions will match theirs and that we will get more jobs in. I want to get more jobs in for down the country, outside of Dublin."
Another part of Mr D'Arcy's brief is insurance - and he finds some harsh words for the industry itself.
"Insurance firms got caught in the recession, their investments weren't achieving the yield they were expecting.
"So they increased the premium on business and that gets passed on to the consumer. That's something I'm not okay with. I'm not okay with that happening," he says.
Looking ahead, he believes the current arrangement with Fianna Fáil can last the full three budgets.
But he says the prospect of ever doing business with Sinn Féin is not a move he could stomach.
"Even if you set aside their attachment to the IRA, I just don't see how we could do business. They are not a party that has moved to full democratic structures," Mr D'Arcy says, citing the process behind the appointment of Michelle O'Neill in the North.
"In my opinion, there are better people than Michelle O'Neill in Northern politics. But that's how Sinn Féin does business. I find it a little bit alarming."