Thursday 14 December 2017

Now Ring backs Donohoe as next Fine Gael leader

Junior minister says 9pc tourism VAT is here to stay and calls for another 'Gathering Reunion'

LEADER IN WAITING: The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD outside Dail Eireann. Photo: Tony Gavin
LEADER IN WAITING: The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD outside Dail Eireann. Photo: Tony Gavin
Michael Ring
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe is a future leader of Fine Gael, according to junior sports and tourism minister Michael Ring.

Mr Ring, a Fine Gael stalwart with a 20-year Dail career, said Mr Donohoe has shown leadership qualities during his short time serving as a Cabinet minister and that this means he is destined to lead the party.

The Mayo TD's anointment of Mr Donohoe as a leadership candidate carries significant bearing, given that he previously worked in the Department of Transport with Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who has been well-flagged as a potential Fine Gael leader.

Mr Ring believes both politicians have "tremendous ability" but said Mr Donohoe is his preferred candidate to replace his constituency colleague Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he decides to step down.

"Paschal has a great understanding of what is going on and he can talk to people. He says it like he sees it and people trust him," Mr Ring told the Sunday Independent.

"We are so lucky in Fine Gael with the amount of talent we have. Paschal is a guy no one was talking about a few years ago and now I see him as a future leader," he added.

Despite the backing of one of the most senior figures in Fine Gael, Mr Donohoe is facing an uphill battle to get re-elected in the three-seat Dublin Central constituency.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is likely to top the poll, followed by Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan. Mr Donohoe is likely to be left in a dog fight with Labour Party TD Joe Costello for the final seat.

Mr Ring believes Fine Gael currently has a wealth of talent and points to Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and junior finance minister Simon Harris.

"The future looks very bright for Fine Gael. If this was the Mayo or Kerry football team, you would look around and say this is a very good young team with a lot of rising stars," he remarked.

In Mayo, he believes Fine Gael will return with all three of its seats, which would also see Ballina-based TD Michelle Mulherin secure her seat in the four-seat constituency.

He does not believe Mayo will elect Sinn Fein candidate Rose Conway Walsh, but said Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary will be re-elected.

And in an announcement that will be welcomed by hoteliers and restaurateurs around the country, Mr Ring insisted that the 9pc VAT rate for the tourism industry should be maintained for the life-time of the next government.

The reduction from 13.5pc has been deemed a huge success by the industry and has resulted in more than 7.4 million tourists visiting Ireland this year, which is an increase of almost 13pc on the previous year.

"I think the 9pc VAT is something that should be left there. The economy is beginning to lift and Dublin is doing very well, but a lot of rural hotels, B&Bs and local newspapers need that VAT rate to be maintained at 9.5pc," the minister said.

"It has been a big boost, particularly to hoteliers and restaurant owners in rural Ireland that suffered more than those in the cities during the recession," he added.

Mr Ring plans to make the tourism sector a €5bn-a-year industry if he is returned to office after the General Election.

He hopes to revisit the Gathering Ireland initiative, which saw thousands of Irish ex-pats return home to take part in events celebrating Irish culture and heritage in 2013.

"The Gathering was a great success. People said it wouldn't work but everybody bought into it," he said.

"It is something we have to look at for 2017. If not another Gathering, then a Gathering Reunion," he added.

The Westport native also wants tax breaks for seaside towns and insisted that he will be actively lobbying for such a scheme if re-elected.

"They have been ravaged by the winter again and ravaged by floods. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Department of Finance would come up with a scheme that allows them upgrade their properties and give them tax breaks against it and they should do that," he said.

Mr Ring holds the purse strings for the lucrative sports grants his department doles out to organisations, but has faced criticism over what is perceived as the bias he shows towards his home county when allotting funding.

However, he is quick to defend his management of Sports Capital Programme.

"I took the people who did badly in the past and I rewarded them for the future. No matter what I do for Mayo I'm going to get criticised but any money Mayo is getting it's only money they should have got in the past," he said.

Sunday Independent

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