Varadkar calls for return of FG dissidents
Conciliatory gesture from Minister notes representatives’ courage and conviction
Leo Varadkar said that he respected that the five Dá a il deputies and two Senators had followed the courage of their convictions
Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has said he would like to see a pathway that would allow the seven former members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party expelled for voting against abortion legislation to regain the party whip.
Mr Varadkar said that he respected that the five Dáil deputies and two Senators had followed the courage of their convictions, although he disagreed with their position.
In an interview with The Irish Times, the Fine Gael Minister offered an olive branch to the expelled TDs but he discouraged them from forming a group.
He is the most senior Fine Gael Minister to make a conciliatory gesture to the group which is due to hold its one-day planning meeting next Saturday and has already sought separate speaking rights in the Dáil.
“You have to respect the courage of the people who voted against the legislation, though I don’t agree with the position they took. It’s not an easy thing to be kicked out of party and lose office.
“The one thing that grates with me and annoys Fine Gael members is the idea they are more Fine Gael than the rest of us, that they are defending Fine Gael values and we are not and I find that difficult to listen to.
“My own view is that they are not a group and they have all done things for different reasons. What I would like to see for those for whom abortion was an issue of conscience [is] that a pathway could be found back . . . into [the] parliamentary party provided they support the Government.
“With some of them we will find that though their views on abortion were genuine it was not a once-off issue but there were other issues, frankly.”
Taoiseach and party leader Enda Kenny has been resolute in saying those who voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act would lose the party whip and would not be Fine Gael candidates in the next election.
Several of the group are already working on the assumption that he will not draw back from that position. It remains to be be seen if, and how, Mr Kenny will react to his Fine Gael colleague’s intervention.
Asked if his position was shared by others in the party he said there were mixed views on it.
“Before the [summer] break things were happening in the heat of the moment. I would hope that over the next few months people will have a chance to reflect on that. Support of some of those members for the budget could be very important,”
said Mr Varadkar. But he dismissed his former colleagues looking for rights as a political party. “They are not a political party and were not elected as a political party.”
The seven are: Lucinda Creighton, Brian Walsh, Peter Mathews, Terence Flanagan, Billy Timmins and Senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy-Eames.
On political reform, Mr Varadkar backed the Coalition’s record, citing quotas for women, reform of the Freedom of Information Act and the constitutional convention.
He argued that reform could go wider, that part of the problem was the political culture in Ireland. He instanced an independently elected Ceann Comhairle, a super committee to scrutinise EU legislation and some system that would allow more TDs who wished to be parliamentarians rather than local representatives.