Varadkar sets out his vision but it's 'not a leadership pitch'
A strong economy without a vision for society will result in "squandered prosperity that will ultimately be unsustainable", Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has said.
In a speech to mark the anniversaries of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, the minister sought to give some insight into his view of Ireland - and warned higher taxes will not solve social problems.
He also said that while some had jumped on Brexit in an effort to push for a Border poll on a united Ireland, that had been "counterproductive".
Mr Varadkar's remarks, at the graveside of Michael Collins, will be seen as an attempt to shore up his leadership credentials by putting forward both an economic and social vision for the country.
He denied afterwards his comments were driven by the impending battle to replace Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael, saying he wanted to talk about the vision and legacy of the two "founding fathers" and "that revolutionary generation" which should be "an inspiration to all politicians no matter how they intend to serve".
During his oration, Mr Varadkar drew heavily on the writings of Collins and Griffith, saying both arts and sports "might have been recognised more by the new state had either man lived".
The Dublin West TD said Fine Gael needs to stay true to Collins's theory on taxation, "that a functioning tax system should both encourage business and reward individuals as well as providing for those who need protection".
"Increasing general taxation is not the solution to all of our social problems and infrastructural deficits and increasing it too much creates a problem in itself," Mr Varadkar said.
"Collins recognised that 'the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to order our own life'. And that is the vision that should be at the heart of our thinking in the 21st century."
He added: "We need to advance and expand the recovering economy so that more people are free to order their own life; they are free to achieve their am bitions and their dreams."
Mr Varadkar said Brexit "complicates matters considerably for this country, and we have to be prepared for a period of uncertainty before it is settled".
He argued the only way to achieve a united Ireland would be "by respecting the different traditions, identities and values on this island, not by trying to obliterate them".
"It was easy for some to jump on the Brexit result, and use it to make a land-grab for Northern Ireland. And it was counterproductive," he said, in a thinly veiled attack on Sinn Féin.
"Often the people who speak loudest about republican values, are the least [genuine] when it comes to honouring them. The inclusive vision of Griffith is better than the opportunistic rhetoric of assimilation, and it is the only chance we have of securing lasting peace and achieving genuine unity on this island."
He said he shared Taoiseach Enda Kenny's view that a united Ireland will happen "at some point in the future" but said relying simply on a Border poll would be a "crude" approach.
Over 100 people attended the event organised by the Collins Griffith Commemoration Society, including Louth TD Fergus O'Dowd, Dublin MEP Brian Hayes and senator Maura Hopkins.
Speaking to reporters after the speech, Mr Varadkar said the best way to honour Collins and Griffith would be "to try fulfil the vision that they had of an independent Ireland that is economically free and provides opportunities and prosperity for everybody".