Parlon appeals for focus on rural issues


Broadening party's appeal: The PDs should adopt new policy areas to appeal to rural sections of the electorate, the Minister of State for Finance, Mr Tom Parlon, told the conference.

In a speech seen as an attempt to expand the party's urban appeal, Mr Parlon said he believed there had been a profound change in its political make-up after the general election.

"We have moved geographically and ideologically from the concrete to the grass, he said. "We are now a party where Ballybrophy and Castlerea are as important as Ballsbridge and Clonskeagh. We must reflect this change by looking to new policy areas."

The rapid growth of Dublin and decline of certain rural areas were neither economically efficient nor socially sustainable. "Balanced regional policy must be one of the party's key goals," he said.

"By all means let us continue to invest in Dublin, in its social, economic and transport infrastructure. But is it really in the interests of Dublin and its citizens that the capital city should continue to sprawl out into the surrounding counties at a rate of a mile per year? I don't think so."

Mr Parlon has indicated that he will seek the party leadership whenever the position became vacant. Seen as an obvious rival to the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, he has been building a base within the PDs by taking about 500 new members into the party in Co Offaly.

He opened his speech by launching a stinging attack on the Opposition. "We would see more taxes, more regulations, more barriers to job creation, all based on a deep-seated antipathy to the very concept of economic growth," he said.

He added: "The prospect of the hard left having control of the economic destiny of this country is cause for concern. They are anti-European, anti-American, anti-investment, anti-everything that could move this country forward."

The outgoing party chairman, Senator John Minihan, said any temptation to raise personal taxation should be resisted, despite the economic downturn. "Full employment was a prize worth fighting for and it is a prize worth defending. And if we want to defend it, we will have to keep taxes down," he said.

Senator Minihan called for "prudent borrowing" for capital investment, but said this would require changes in the EU Stability and Growth Pact.

The Government's ability to raise debt was constrained by the pact because it set limits on borrowing and did not distinguish between capital and current spending.

He added: "It would be very foolish to cut back on investment now and then find that when economic buoyancy returns we have congestion which is even worse than before, and public facilities which are even worse than before."