Thursday 18 January 2018

Coveney and Varadkar put their pitches to rural voters

Senator Hildegarde Naughton was at the Carlow hustings. Picture: Frank McGrath
Senator Hildegarde Naughton was at the Carlow hustings. Picture: Frank McGrath
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar made their pitches to rural Ireland in the first Fine Gael leadership debate outside of Dublin.

While Mr Coveney pledged to "rebalance" the country, Mr Varadkar sought to shrug off his metropolitan image, pledging to be a "Taoiseach for all of Ireland".

Meanwhile, the divisive issue of the Eighth Amendment on abortion was raised for the first time in the hustings process.

Mr Coveney told around 600 party members assembled in Carlow they would have to consider who has the talent and energy for the job given the "huge challenges" of Brexit and the urban-rural divide.

He said there is a need to drive investments into regions "like this one" and support indigenous industries. He referenced his time as agriculture minister, speaking of how he was in office when large investments were being made by agri-food companies.

Read More: Political anoraks have their day in the sun as leadership battle reveals shifting voter landscape

Mr Coveney said the milk quota had been abolished and that sugar quotas are to follow, allowing Ireland to "rebuild the sugar industry" which was once centred around Carlow.

Mr Varadkar said he was "conscious" he was not in Dublin, adding he's always tried to support rural Ireland. He listed the Gathering tourism initiative, the Vat reduction for the hospitality sector and getting rid of the travel tax, which all took place under his watch at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

He also said there's a need to invest in the ambulance service in rural Ireland.

Mr Varadkar pledged: "I won't be Taoiseach for Dublin, I'll be Taoiseach for all of Ireland."

Fine Gael's nightmare on water charges was also referenced by both candidates.

Mr Varadkar recalled the 2014 local elections when party members were "falling over water meters to knock on doors to say why the government has taken medical cards".

"That will never happen if I am leader of Fine Gael," he said, adding that as health minister he doubled the number of discretionary medical cards.

Read More: A rumble in Rathgar: forget Leo and Simon - Eoghan and Kate is the real feud in FG

Mr Coveney said he was involved in settling the "water issue once and for all" after it "dogged the party for years".

They were asked their views on the liberal recommendations of the recent Citizens' Assembly that examined the Eighth Amendment.

Mr Coveney said he's "not supportive of unrestricted access to abortion in Ireland".

Mr Varadkar said: "I don't agree with abortion on request but I also think the Eighth Amendment is too restrictive." He said he wants to see a referendum on the issue next year.

Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney ruled out a future coalition with Sinn Féin. Mr Varadkar said: "I don't believe they're a fully democratic party."

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Mr Coveney said: "Regardless of who wins this process, Fine Gael will not be forming a government with Sinn Féin."

Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader

The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.

That makes each of the 73 members' votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.

Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.

Leo Varadkar
Simon Coveney

Total: 45

Total: 19

Ministers: 17

Ministers: 5

TDs: 16

TDs: 5

Senators: 11

Senators: 8

MEPs: 1

MEPs: 1

Richard Bruton -MinisterSimon Harris - Minister
Frances Fitzgerald - MinisterDamien English - Minister
Michael Ring - MinisterDara Murphy - Minister
Eoghan Murphy - MinisterDavid Stanton - Minister
Sean Kyne - MinisterMarcella Corcoran Kennedy - Minister
Joe McHugh - MinisterKate O'Connell - TD
Helen McEntee - MinisterMaria Bailey - TD
Charlie Flanagan - MinisterSean Barrett TD
Paul Kehoe -MinisterHildegard Naughton - TD
Patrick O'Donovan - MinisterPeter Fitzpatrick - TD
Regina Doherty - MinisterTim Lombard - Senator
Mary Mitchell O'Connor - MinisterJerry Buttimer - Senator
Paschal Donohoe - MinisterPaudie Coffey - Senator
Heather Humphreys - MinisterJames Reilly - Senator
Pat Breen - MinisterColm Burke - Senator
Catherine Byrne - MinisterJohn O'Mahony - Senator
Andrew Doyle - MinisterPaul Coghlan - Senator
John Paul Phelan - TDGabrielle McFadden - Senator
Noel Rock - TDDeirdre Clune - MEP
Tony McLoughlin - TD 
Alan Farrell - TD 
Michael D'Arcy - TD 
Tom Neville - TD 
Josepha Madigan - TD 
Pat Deering - TD 
Jim Daly - TD 
Brendan Griffin - TD 
Ciaran Cannon - TD 
Colm Brophy - TD 
Peter Burke - TD 
Fergus O'Dowd - TD 
John Deasy - TD 
Joe Carey - TD 
Neale Richmond - Senator 
Catherine Noone - Senator 
Paddy Burke - Senator 
Martin Conway - Senator 
Michelle Mulherin - Senator 
Maura Hopkins - Senator 
Ray Butler - Senator 
Frank Feighan - Senator 
Maria Byrne - Senator 
Joe O'Reilly - Senator 
Kieran O'Donnell - Senator 
Brian Hayes - MEP 
Undeclared
Enda Kenny - Outgoing Party Leader *Martin Heydon - Party Chairman *
Michael Noonan - MinisterMichael Creed - Minister
Bernard Durkan - TDSean Kelly - MEP
Mairead McGuinness MEP  

* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement

Irish Independent

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