Fine Gael has ‘a vision and a plan’ for rural Ireland, says Varadkar

Success not measured in Garda stations and post offices, but people and jobs – Taoiseach

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also used the occasion to attack Sinn Féin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also used the occasion to attack Sinn Féin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the success of rural Ireland shouldn’t be judged on the number of post offices or Garda stations in towns and villages and said technological advances driving “consolidation” of those services is set to accelerate.

Mr Varadkar was speaking at Fine Gael’s selection convention for the Ireland South constituency in the forthcoming European Parliament elections.

The party chose three candidates to run in in the constituency, which takes in all of Munster as well as much of Leinster: sitting MEPs Sean Kelly and Deirdre Clune along with Wicklow-based Minister of State Andrew Doyle. Laois-Offaly TD Marcella Corcoran-Kennedy lost out.

Addressing more than 1,000 delegates at Hotel Minella in Clonmel for the convention, the Taoiseach said Fine Gael had “a vision and a plan” for rural Ireland.

“I believe the success of rural Ireland into the future shouldn’t be judged by the number of post offices or the number of Garda stations, as important as those things are,” he said.

“Truth be told, post offices and Garda stations are being consolidated in urban Ireland as well, and most of that is driven by technology, things like smartphones, car ownership, electronic payments, for example.

“The vast majority of people turning 66 this year, for example, will want their pension paid into their bank account, because that’s how they’re used to being paid for the last 20 or 30 years. And those advances aren’t going away. If anything they’re going to accelerate as we roll out broadband and extend the internet and email and online shopping.”

The success of rural Ireland should be judged on measures such as the amount of people living there; families choosing to move out of cities into rural areas; the number of jobs and new businesses; and the success of local services and facilities, he said.

Extra seats

Fine Gael’s priority at the European elections was to hold on to the four seats it won in 2014, he said, and to challenge for gains, particularly in Dublin and Ireland South, which have an extra seat each this time because of Brexit.

“I think it’s possible to make gains, with two extra seats available,” he said.

Among those attending the convention were the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, Minister for Health Simon Harris, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, former minister for finance Michael Noonan, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, and former Fine Gael MEP and Alliance Party leader John Cushnahan.

Mr Varadkar also used the occasion to attack Sinn Féin, a party that was “almost unique in Europe” as it had seats in three domestic parliaments.

“They refuse to take their seats in Westminster, even at a time when critical decisions are being made about Ireland’s future. They pulled down another parliament in Northern Ireland, and now they’re proposing to leave our country without a parliament, without a government, forcing an unnecessary general election at a very pressing time for our country,” Mr Varadkar said, citing Sinn Féin’s recent no-confidence motion in Mr Harris.

The Taoiseach acknowledged the role played by Fianna Fáil in providing “political stability” since the last general election.

“But often I wonder if there’s a sting in the tail, and I wonder if Fianna Fáil had been five or 10 points ahead in the polls in the last year, would they have been quite so willing to facilitate us? I guess time will tell, and whatever happens, we have to be ready.”