Friday 20 September 2019

Zappone vows to fight back as Fine Gael targets her seat

Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone. Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone has vowed to fight for her Dáil seat at the next election despite fresh competition from Fine Gael.

The Independent member of Government faces a challenge from the chairperson of the National Women's Council of Ireland, Ellen O'Malley Dunlop. Fine Gael added Ms O'Malley Dunlop, who has a strikingly similar CV to the minister, on to its ticket in Dublin South West last month.

While party chiefs have publicly played down attempts to unseat Ms Zappone, behind the scenes strategists believe she is vulnerable.

However, Ms Zappone batted away suggestions she has been targeted by the party she shares government with, adding that she "can't wait" to run in the next election.

"What I believe is that there are five seats in the constituency and they belong to the people of Dublin South West. They will make their decision when we have our next e lection," she said.

The other four seats are held by John Lahart (FF), Paul Murphy (Solidarity), Seán Crowe (SF) and Colm Brophy (FG).

Ms Zappone secured the final seat in 2016 by just 152 votes on the 16th count, with Fine Gael's Anne Marie Dermody coming behind her.

Fine Gael bosses marked it as a seat they should have won. They gave Ms O'Malley Dunlop significant prominence at the party's Ard Fheis in Citywest over the weekend.

The former chief of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre even took part in a media event alongside Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Communications Minister Richard Bruton and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Ms Zappone has taken some pride in diverting from the official Government line on occasion since taking office but is well liked by her Fine Gael colleagues.

Yesterday she distanced herself from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's promise of relentless cuts to income tax over next five years.

Mr Varadkar said in his Ard Fheis speech on Saturday that he wants to raise the point at which workers pay the higher rate of tax to €50,000.

But Ms Zappone said that was "clearly" a commitment made by Fine Gael, not her.

"My own priorities have to do with the use of resources in order to reduce children's poverty, hunger, homelessness and that we need to take those issues very solidly into account when we look at what kind of progressive taxation system we want into the future," she said.

However, the minister indicated that she is willing to continue on in government if there is an extension to the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

She said it would be "helpful" if the two parties could make progress on a deal "as soon as possible".

"I think that would create stability, we'd all know where we were going. And I am ready for whatever decision is made.

"In relation to the confidence and supply agreement, once it gets agreed the Taoiseach has already promised that he'll bring that to me. We'll discuss it and take a look at it," said Ms Zappone.

Irish Independent

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