Monday 18 December 2017

I want to lead: Frances Fitzgerald tells of ambitions to lead her party

Frances Fitzgerald tells of ambitions to be first female Fine Gael leader after Kenny quits

STRONG CONTENDER: Frances Fitzgerald
STRONG CONTENDER: Frances Fitzgerald

Daniel McConnell and Maeve Sheehan

Frances Fitzgerald, the Justice Minister, has given the first clear indication that she wants to challenge for the leadership of the Fine Gael party after the General Election, when Enda Kenny stands down as Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny has signalled that the upcoming election will be his last and he would not seek a third term and Ms Fitzgerald has firmly put her hat in the ring to succeed him.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, Ms Fitzgerald was asked if she wanted to lead.

While insisting no vacancy currently exists, Ms Fitzgerald has clearly indicated her willingness to contest the leadership.

Asked would she rule herself out of a contest, she said: "I don't rule myself out."

"I am very honoured to be elected in the first instance, to have this job, you know, is such a wide agenda I have worked on over 20 years and I am very interested in and believe they can make a real difference if they are handled properly and so I don't speculate about leadership. I have always enjoyed leading when I had the opportunity to lead in a variety of roles and I think it is a real privilege to lead," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald, who has always been placed third behind the main putative leadership contenders of Fine Gael, Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, will now be seen as a strong contender.

Ms Fitzgerald also said any discussion around the repealing of the controversial 1983 Eighth Amendment to the Constitution has to be done with utmost sensitivity.

In the context of the complex issues around pregnancy, she revealed that she herself suffered two miscarriages. "I think this is a most sensitive and difficult issue for every individual and also for Government, and it needs to be handled with the utmost care and, you know, as somebody who has had five pregnancies myself, two that I lost in miscarriage," she said. She added that in her view the Constitution was never the appropriate place to deal with such complex issues as abortion.

While both Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney have their supporters within the parliamentary party, both are seen as having the potential to be divisive.

Those who support Ms Fitzgerald see her as the ideal compromise candidate.

There is speculation too that she is the one who would be most favoured by Mr Kenny to take over, and, should the party be returned to power, there will be intense interest in any promotions that take place.

If Ms Fitzgerald were to be promoted to an economic ministry, that would be a strong indication that she is being groomed for leadership.

Mr Varadkar sought to play down his leadership ambitions yesterday, saying that anyone who thinks they can "plan their career in politics" is "a very foolish person".

Mr Varadkar said: "Look across the water now, Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party and Tim Farren is the leader of the Lib Dems. How many people have even heard of them?

"The fun and pleasure of politics is that it is unpredictable."

He said Mr Kenny will lead the party into the next General Election and if elected, intends to serve a full term.

"What arises in the future, I will make a decision about then," he said.

"There is one thing I would say is that anyone who thinks they can plan their career in politics is a very foolish person," he added.

Mr Varadkar accused some of his "senior colleagues" of "kite flying" in the run up to Budget 2016.

"I remember being chided for doing something similar in previous years but now I see my more senior colleagues are doing it on a daily basis, which is interesting to see," he said.

With the Dail returning this week, Mr Coveney has said Fine Gael is ready for an early election in November, should Taoiseach Enda Kenny decide to "cut and run" earlier.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Coveney, who is on Fine Gael's national election committee, says his party is ready to go in terms of organisation.

"We are ready…We can go earlier. Fine Gael will be ready whenever the election is called," he said today.

Mr Coveney was speaking amid fresh speculation that Mr Kenny could decide to call an election in the wake of the Budget next month, if opinion polls are favourable to the Government.

Despite confirming that Fine Gael is ready to contest the election, Mr Coveney said he still thinks Mr Kenny will wait until February 2016 before calling the election.

Mr Coveney said he is not convinced the Government should "cut and run" early.

Sunday Independent

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