Saturday 19 January 2019

Fine Gael has €1m 'war chest' to fight a general election this year

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

Fine Gael has amassed a €1m election "war chest" and is well advanced in candidate selection and other preparations, party chairman Martin Heydon has warned.

Mr Heydon stressed that the party wants to "continue providing good government" and does not want an election in the coming 12 months.

But he says the brinkmanship of late November, which forced the resignation of tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, gave everybody a reminder that the Fine Gael-led Coalition could collapse at any time.

"We definitely do not want an election in 2018. But should it happen we will be ready. In mid-December we had our super draw, our largest fundraiser of the year, and it raised €960,000 - that is money which can be spent on an election," the Kildare South TD said.

The Fine Gael chairman said candidates have been chosen in half the country's constituencies, and the party is on target to achieve the mandatory ratio of 30pc women candidates. Special attention has been paid to Tipperary and Longford, constituencies without a Fine Gael TD, and other areas where the party had problems in the February 2016 general election.

In Tipperary, now a unitary five-seater, a total of five hustings have been held with prominent potential candidates arguing their case to packed houses. The selection process is likely to be dealt with in late February or early March.

In Longford, part of four-seat Longford- Westmeath, the party has identified a potential candidate in Cllr Micheál Carrigy, of Ballinalee. Party sources say it is likely that Athlone-based senator Gabrielle McFadden, and sitting TD Peter Burke, of Mullingar, will also contest here.

Mr Heydon, first elected to the Dáil in 2011 and a poll-topper last time out, said he believes that, on balance, the current Government is set to continue in office through 2018 and deliver its third scheduled budget next October. "When it was first put together few people believed it could last. But we're now working very well with our colleagues in the Independent Alliance and with the other Independents," he said.

"That was why we got such a surprise in November. It reminded us that the destiny of this Government is not entirely in our hands."

The Kildare South TD said that Brexit is the key economic issue for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the Government, and all the parties in 2018. He argued that Fine Gael is still ideally placed to lead on this issue as it has important links through its membership of the EPP Christian Democrat party.

"It is the EU's biggest grouping, with nine of the 27 prime ministers, and all the key Brexit people in Brussels are linked to the EPP," he said in reference to chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the presidents of the European Council, European Commission and European Parliament.

"The economic importance of Brexit is appreciated by every single voter across the country and I find a very keen interest in the issue in Kildare South."

Irish Independent

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