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Give Taoiseach the chance to realise this shared vision

The leadership race showed both candidates' views were needed to complete the circle, writes Fidelma Healy Eames


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

At the end of April, I found myself one year out of politics. Rather unexpectedly, I experienced a sense of loss, of regret, of what might have been.

As the leadership race was taking off in Fine Gael, I couldn't get over how much it excited me to hear Leo and Simon put their views forward, to see their energy, to hear the visions they shared. I was really taken by it. I didn't realise how much I had been worn down by the 'same old same old' and suddenly I connected again with why I had joined Fine Gael in the 1990s, why I had let politics consume me.

At different points, Leo and Simon were articulating the vision I believed in for our country. Simon's insistence on the need for a 'Just Society' for the 21st century, to be inclusive of all our citizens. Leo talking about a republic that would deliver opportunity for every citizen in every region, rewarding work.

But for me it was not about choosing Leo or Simon or about one vision working better than the other. We needed both visions to complete the circle. Without the other, we would be out of balance. With the Left/Right model there are always large numbers of people who feel disconnected.

This is the problem with left and right ideologies. Leo in his inaugural speech as Taoiseach named that when he said his government would be "of the centre".

The leadership race threw up some interesting turns. It was good that Simon didn't pull out early when it seemed like the game was up. By staying in the race, the Fine Gael grassroots members got a chance to speak and what a lesson they taught our new Taoiseach. Simon's support showed Leo that he needed to soften his message.

The wisdom of Michael Noonan's advice that the membership should be heard had proved critical. With Simon winning two-thirds of the FG membership's vote, Leo acted decisively. His appointment of Simon Coveney as deputy leader of Fine Gael endorsed his vision. That says a lot about the type of leader Leo will be. So what type of Taoiseach will he be?

I was disappointed to see the negativity of some of the Opposition leaders' comments, following his election as Taoiseach. High expectations with exacting demands by Opposition and media can set a leader up for failure. They are set even higher for someone bright and talented.

Eamon Ryan was particularly over the top with his "not a scintilla of Green". He was not keeping an eye on Leo when he cycled the Mayo Greenway after a Fine Gael think-in. Condemning him before he has a chance to lead or prove himself is unreasonable.

Reading recently about leadership, three words kept cropping up: vision, engagement and delivery.

Leo will be strong on vision. His personal identity, his father's advice to take care of the "poorest of the poor", his obvious belief in enterprise and work, his appointment of Michael Ring to Rural Affairs, Simon Coveney with special responsibility for Brexit, should reassure people that he is focused.

Leo has a great gift for clear thinking. I recall when FG got into power after the 2011 General Election, we discussed how to handle the difficult cuts that had to be made. His analysis was a single phrase: "It's either cold turkey or methadone."

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We got the picture.

In 2013, when it was clear that a number of us had great difficulty with the abortion vote, he sent me a text saying "find a way to get back inside the tent and change the party from within". We did change party policy (now a free vote on conscience matters) but regrettably from without.

Engagement is something Leo is working on. He has shown he can build around him a team who believe in him.

On the issue of delivery,, time will judge him. But he needs time. It didn't go unnoticed that he said his priorities will be Brexit/Northern Ireland, housing and health. He is cautious at this juncture. He has chosen an experienced Cabinet with some modest changes. Seeing Regina Doherty get a senior ministry is timely.

What is clear though is that this Cabinet, his team, are now rejuvenated by a new rallying call. This is exciting.

Leo deserves a chance to put his stamp on the role. In time, I believe we will see a lot of substantive changes, gender and generational. My gut feeling is that Leo is a good man. His parents emanate goodness. To quote Luke 6:45: "A good man brings good things out of the good stored in his heart... for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."

He has our nation's responsibility on his shoulders, let's wish him luck and give him a chance to flourish, to realise the rounded vision he and Simon articulated. We need that to face the looming challenges.

Fidelma Healy Eames is a former Fine Gael senator

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