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Wednesday 28 June 2017

The man with a plan came up short on new policy ideas

Aine Kerr, Political Correspondent

GEORGE Lee arrived in Leinster House armed with a 10-point plan to save the economy.

But in the intervening eight months, the Fine Gael heavyweights continued to plough on with their own policy ideas from their secure portfolio platforms.

In the climax to the by-election, the journalist-turned-politician sought the creation of an "Invest Ireland Initiative" consisting of a €7bn stimulus plan, argued for employment subsidies for the unemployed, called for a "new conversation" with the social partners, debated the need to drive down costs with the establishment of a "Costs Squad" and championed a temporary cut to all stamp duty rates to 2pc.

"Everything we do must start and finish with jobs. I want to see job-protection schemes put in place such as exempting employers from PRSI for new employees they recruit, continuing community employment schemes in the short-term and immediately cutting VAT," he said last May.

Since then, however, his colleagues claim he never called a meeting of the party's economic and business affairs committee of which he was appointed chairman last July.

No policy documents were later published by Mr Lee, according to his colleagues.

Instead, he soaked up occasional media coverage, appearing at the Magill Summer School and defending Fine Gael policy ideas in opinion articles and on radio and television.

Rehashing

The absence of new policy ideas left him open to the charge from junior ministers such as Billy Kelleher that he was simply rehashing the ideas of the party's finance spokesman Richard Bruton and enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar.

While Mr Lee took to penning endless parliamentary questions about costs in FAS and appointments to state boards, his party handlers preferred him to tour the country and star at town-hall meetings.

Despite giving robust defences of Fine Gael's national recovery bank proposal-in opposition to the National Asset Management Agency, he was accused of being "accident-prone" and at odds with his party on policies -- starting with how to fund care of the elderly.

He claimed Fine Gael was against the Government's plan for the elderly to pay for the cost of their nursing-home care from the sale of their homes after their death. But Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly admitted his party "has not opposed the Fair Deal yet".

Although Mr Lee scored hits with his claims that a major supermarket hiked their petrol prices at the pumps five hours prior to the Budget, his speaking time in the Dail was limited without a portfolio title.

In recent months press releases from Mr Lee showed that he was increasingly engaging with the local issues of Dublin South. He was even reduced to making a post-Budget speech the night after all the drama had passed.

Irish Independent

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