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Brexit Party: Varadkar comes out fighting over handling of UK's exit

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Making his point: Leo Varadkar (left) with Simon Coveney at the Combilift factory in Annahagh, Co Monaghan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Making his point: Leo Varadkar (left) with Simon Coveney at the Combilift factory in Annahagh, Co Monaghan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Making his point: Leo Varadkar (left) with Simon Coveney at the Combilift factory in Annahagh, Co Monaghan. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Fine Gael rolled out the big guns for its campaign launch at the Combilift forklift factory just outside Monaghan Town near the Border yesterday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, local Cabinet Minister Heather Humphreys and the EU Affairs Minister Helen McEntee were all on-site to kick off the campaign.

 

1. Not just about Dublin

Mr Varadkar is keen to dispel the notion Fine Gael does not care about rural Ireland. Combilift is a successful and growing Irish business near the Border, it employs around 600 people, exports to 80 countries and is frequently highlighted by Ms Humphreys, the Business Minister, as a local success story and evidence of the party's job-creation credentials. Expect more events outside the capital as the campaign progresses.

 

2. But all about Brexit

Fine Gael will spend the next three weeks insisting it is the only party that can be trusted to handle the second half of the UK's protracted departure from the EU.

Mr Varadkar gave a stark portrayal of the alternative to himself, Mr Coveney and Ms McEntee - the Brexit team. "If Micheál Martin, Sean Haughey and Lisa Chambers had been handling the negotiations for Brexit or the negotiations in Northern Ireland would they have done a better job?" he asked. Ms Humphreys was scathing, describing them as the "Fianna Fáil junior B team". You will be sick of hearing Fine Gael talk about how it's handled Brexit by February 8.

 

3. But maybe not the best team all over the park...

While he will happily talk up the credentials of his Brexit team, Mr Varadkar is reluctant to talk about the merits of his Housing and Health Ministers, who he could not guarantee would be returned to those jobs after the election. "Who's appointed to what position in the next cabinet is for another day," he said.

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4. A second election?

Amid idle chat among politicos about the prospect of a second election this year, Mr Varadkar insisted it wouldn't be his fault. He stood by his position that Fine Gael will not facilitate a Fianna Fáil-led minority government if Fine Gael is the largest party, claiming it would not be democratic. This ignores the fact Fine Gael has led a government three times when Fianna Fáil in Opposition was the largest party since the 1970s. He claimed smaller parties would be to blame if a second election happens. "I'm sure they [smaller parties] will want to talk to us, I doubt they will want to cause a second election and that's what they will be causing - not us," he said.

 

5. A better start than 2016 - but danger here

Four years ago, Fine Gael's general election campaign got off to a horrible start in a cramped Dublin hotel conference room where Enda Kenny didn't want to discuss economic jargon. It was a more professional and assured start from Fine Gael in Monaghan. However, the optics of posing for pictures on a forklift on the same day a homeless man was seriously injured as his tent was removed from a canal in Dublin will not be lost on many of his critics, and may have imperilled a relatively positive start for the party.

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