'FF voters are alarmed by talk of SF deal'
Junior Minister Patrick O'Donovan warns centre under attack
The "ordinary, decent Fianna Fáil voters" - from farmers to fishermen - are deeply alarmed at recent manoeuvres within the party towards a coalition deal with Sinn Féin.
That's according to the new Junior Minister at the Department of Finance, Patrick O'Donovan, who warned of what he described as a "rush" within political circles to "find Sinn Féin respectable".
In his first interview since being appointed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mr O'Donovan said he and others within Fine Gael perceive Sinn Féin as a party that espouses "back of the fag box economics", and one which is associated with those who have "blown children to smithereens".
In a move reminiscent of Phil Hogan's 'lend us your vote' intervention in 2011, Mr O'Donovan said Fianna Fáil voters are worried about recent remarks made by senior front-bench figures.
"The people I have met during the summer, at agricultural shows and other events - the farmers and fishermen and ordinary decent Fianna Fáil people - this is something that has really concerned them.
"It has worried Fianna Fáil people who don't want to have any truck with Sinn Féin," Mr O'Donovan said.
"It was (Fianna Fáil's finance spokesperson) Michael McGrath who said recently that the centre must hold.
"But there appears to be a shift away from that now within the Fianna Fáil party. Doing a deal with Sinn Féin wouldn't be an example of the centre holding."
Mr O'Donovan was referring to Mr McGrath's Budget day speech last year, during which he warned that the centre is "under attack".
In his contribution, Mr McGrath said that after considering the proposals put forward by alternative parties, he came to the conclusion that the "centre must hold".
Speaking from his constituency office in Newcastle West, Mr O'Donovan said this contrasts starkly with remarks made recently by a number of Fianna Fáil TDs that have appeared favourable towards the idea of a coalition with Sinn Féin.
He also said that before Sinn Féin can be considered as potential party in government, it must deal with issues of the past.
"I, and so many other people in Limerick, will always remember where we were the day Jerry McCabe was murdered.
"But I also think about another garda, Seamus Quaid, whose brothers and sisters live here in Newcastle West.
"This was a man lured to his death in a quarry in Wexford.
"His family have had to bear that cross.
"Have they or the McCabes ever had proper reconciliation? I don't think so," Mr O'Donovan said.
"They are just two victims. What about Brian Stack? What about the innocent children blown to smithereens indiscriminately in the likes of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings? That was not done in my name or in the name of any right-minded person.
"So when I hear senior people of a political party talk about 'legitimate combatants', in whose eyes? Who voted for that? I certainly didn't."
As the Government prepares to deliver its first Budget under Leo Varadkar, Mr O'Donovan said that the focus will be on ensuring that there is no repeat of the mistakes of the past.
The minister enjoys a close bond with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, who he says is determined to improve the lives of working families.
"We won't put families and communities back into the mess they found themselves in through no fault of themselves, through bad leadership," he said.
Mr O'Donovan said, however, that the Government must focus on securing the best possible deal for Ireland post-Brexit. The Limerick TD said this should include seeking special conditions in relation to spending on infrastructure.
"If you look towards the Shannon estuary and the west coast of Ireland, we are talking about the most peripheral part of the most peripheral country in the EU.
"The SME sector is deeply concerned about the impact Brexit will have on how they will export. Will they have to avoid the UK and go directly from Rosslare Europort into France? They want capacity on routes into Zeebrugge and Rotterdam," Mr O'Donovan said.
"In relation to spending on ports, roads and aviation, we are going to need the EU to look at Ireland more favourably and that may require a relaxing of the EU state aid rules."
Mr O'Donovan's move from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport came amid various reports of a rocky relationship with Shane Ross.
There was even speculation within political circles that former Taoiseach Enda Kenny was to be drafted in to mediate between the pair.
Mr O'Donovan said this was never the case.
"There was a lot of difference of opinions. We are two totally different people.
"There were major differences but we always came to an agreed settlement."
One of the first challenges Mr O'Donovan did face as a minister were the alleged Olympic ticket touting and doping controversies last summer.
Mr O'Donovan said he was "blown away" by the negative reaction he received from certain representatives in Olympic circles after he personally backed proposals from his counterpart in Denmark to reform doping rules.
Without citing any individual, Mr O'Donovan said it was made clear to him that he was perceived as "trouble" prior to him travelling to Rio last summer.
"It was relayed to me that my support for these proposals was going to make me unpopular," he said.
"But if your gut tells you reform is upsetting them, it's probably the right thing to do."