The Fine Gael leadership contest

 

Four pretenders to the top job spell out their views under questioning by Vincent Browne

PHIL HOGAN

VB: Why should Fine Gael elect you as its leader?

PH: I believe I am a conviction politician. The party requires vision and identity, and I believe I have a set of core beliefs that will lead Fine Gael to success in the future.

VB: What are those core beliefs?

PH: I believe in entrepreneurship, rewarding effort and ending begrudgery as a national pastime. I believe in the rule of law and strong opposition to criminality and subversion and also I am committed to an Ireland that provides equality of opportunity for all its citizens and protects its environment and heritage.

VB: What would be distinctive about FG with you as leader?

PH: The election showed that our policy platform did not connect with the electorate. The public wanted a government that would sustain economic growth and build on the success of the past few years. Fine Gael with me as leader would have clarity of message. I have the organisational strength to build up for the local elections and I have the capacity to hone and manage a team that will drive home the message we have.

VB: What are the three major national policy reforms you would advocate?

PH: I would emphasise the free enterprise message of Fine Gael and that working people could be expected to be rewarded. Equality of educational opportunity for all is fundamental to our country, irrespective of means. And I would demonstrate my credentials on law and order by insisting on mandatory sentences for people involved in "joyriding".

VB: Why do you think FG has declined so drastically in the last 20 years?

PH: We have lacked a policy platform that is distinctive and credible with the electorate. What we must do now is to state clearly our core beliefs and be modern and professional in our approach in relation to the core beliefs we stand for.

VB: Would you involve Sinn Féin in a coalition government in five years' time, if the numbers required it?

PH: No. Sinn Féin have a long way to go before it can prove it is a democratic party. For so long as it has a private army we would not involve ourselves in coalition with it.

VB: Why should Fine Gael be so concerned about Sinn Féin having a private army when Fine Gael itself was established with a private army of its own?

PH: If you believe in democratic principles you can have only one army in the State.

VB: Would you co-operate with Sinn Féin in opposition over the period of this Dáil?

PH: We have to get on with the job of communicating our own core beliefs and reorganising the party and I don't see a need to co-operate with Sinn Féin.

VB: Are you in favour of removing the ban on corporate donations?

PH: I am in favour of reviewing it and I am in favour of Fine Gael seeking financial support from all possible sources under the law in order to fund our party.

VB: Why disenfranchise the senators who will shortly be elected and disenfranchise the party membership in this leadership vote?

PH: I have an open mind in that matter. I believe the membership has to be brought with us. The difficulty in not moving quickly was that it might create a political vacuum. I certainly would intend hitting the constituencies as quickly as possible and to convene a special ardfheis in order to elect a president of the party from the membership.

VB: Michael Noonan said in the course of the election campaign that he was in favour of asylum-seekers being subject to health screening. Are you in favour of that?

PH: Yes.

GAY MITCHELL

VB: Why should Fine Gael elect you as leader?

GM: I have set out clearly where I stand, I have set out the meaning of Christian Democracy. You can't have equality of outcome as socialists and the Labour Party want.

We can have solidarity and equality of opportunity. I think I have the experience and energy to communicate that message. Also, as a Dubliner, I can rebuild the party in the capital where there are 12 constituencies - recovery in Dublin is central to the recovery of the party nationally.

VB: Why involve the phrase "Christian Democracy" which is associated with the worst forms of political corruption as in Italy and with vicious right-wing policies in other countries of Europe?

GM: Socialism and republicanism have been tainted by association with dictatorship in the case of socialism and violence in the case of republicanism, but they have core values around the idea of Christian Democracy.

VB: Why do you think Fine Gael has declined so drastically in the last 20 years?

GM: First, we did not look like we could form a government. The economy was going well.

The electorate was unsure what we stood for. And in some constituencies - for instance, Dún Laoghaire - we ran the wrong number of candidates. All these factors contributed to our performance.

VB: How would you propose to reverse that decline?

GM: I believe it is possible for us to get 30 per cent of the vote. We are not trying to please everyone and we can aim at that if we have a clear sense of identity. We need new forms of organisation and we need to bring in people to work with the new leader.

VB: Would you involve Sinn Féin in a coalition government in five years' time, if the numbers required it?

GM: I would have to be absolutely certain that it had put its past behind it.

VB: Would you co-operate with Sinn Féin in opposition over the period of this Dáil?

GM: No. As Sinn Féin continues to put its violent past behind it we can increase our co-operation with them but they have got to move in the direction of doing that.

VB: Are you in favour of removing the ban on corporate donations?

GM: Yes. I think the ban is very false. If a fellow gives you a cheque for €100 drawn on a company or gives you €100 out of his pocket, what difference does it make?

VB: Why disenfranchise the senators who will shortly be elected and disenfranchise the party membership in this leadership vote?

GM: I was one of those who favoured waiting, but Michael Noonan's formal resignation set the clock running and we have to choose a leader within 30 days.

But whatever the outcome of the leadership election, there is a need for an autumn ardfheis to review how we would involve the party in the new organisational methods.

VB: Michael Noonan said during the course of the election campaign that asylum-seekers here should be required to undergo health screening. Do you agree?

GM: I think it is something we need to treat with great care. We do have a need to know about the vaccination of children, but I would not favour doing anything that would give rise to fears of racism.

RICHARD BRUTON


VB: Why should Fine Gael elect you as leader?

RB: The task we have is to lead change, that we tune into people. We need as leader a person with the capacity to present well thought out policies and someone with a high work rate. I think I have the capacity to tune in to people in the way that is needed, that I have a record of a high work rate and the capacity to generate relevant and new ideas.

VB: What would be distinctive about Fine Gael with you as leader?

RB: I think the party would be active, challenging and coming up with new approaches. Politics has lost contact with contemporary Ireland in many ways and Fine Gael under my leadership would tune in much more to what the people are thinking and would come up with new and challenging ideas.

VB: Why do you think Fine Gael has declined so drastically in the last 20 years?

RB: Fine Gael is seen as part of a complacent establishment rather than as a party that is driving change. To revive the party we have to become a campaigning party.

VB: What issues do you think Fine Gael should campaign on?

RB: The whole area of special needs, literacy and remedial teaching in education. There is also the issue of the carers. There are many people who are involved in care work 24 hours a day and they get scant support from the State. I would also want to campaign on the whole area of juvenile justice. We have to get an understanding of what is behind the phenomenon of violent aggression, create alternatives to alcohol as the outlet that people use for recreation. We have to have tough penalties but we have to have a way back for people who get into trouble

VB: Would you involve Sinn Féin in a coalition government in five years' time, if the numbers required it?

RB: I cannot envisage that at this stage. The onus is obviously on Sinn Féin to move towards a situation where they are not backed up by an armed wing, that there is full decommissioning but until all that happens we certainly would not be taking in Sinn Féin to make up the numbers.

VB: Would you co-operate with Sinn Féin in opposition over the period of this Dáil?

RB: In opposition we will be focused on creating a vibrant alternative to the present Government and campaigning on the issues I have spoken of. But, obviously, there will be occasions on which we will co-operate tactically with all opposition parties.

VB: Are you in favour of removing the ban on corporate donations?

RB: I think the ban on corporate donations is correct. I would be extremely slow to change that position.

VB: Why disenfranchise the senators who will shortly be elected and disenfranchise the party membership in this leadership vote?

RB: We need to have a leader in place to conduct a purposeful redirection and regeneration of the party. We need to listen to the membership as part of that regeneration.

VB: Isn't it hypocritical to talk about listening to the membership given that you are frustrating the intention of the ardfheis in voting to involve the membership in the leadership election?

RB: We are operating within the rules as they now stand. We have to start being relevant from the first day the Dáil is back. There is also the point that the leader chosen by the TDs and senators is leader of the parliamentary party and there can be the separate position of president of the party chosen by the ardfheis. The president could be given additional powers and work beside the parliamentary party leader.

VB: Michael Noonan said during the election campaign that he favoured health screening asylum-seekers. Do you agree with that?

RB: No, I would not go for compulsory health screening.

ENDA KENNY
VB: Why should Fine Gael elect you as leader?

EK: My record has been one of co-operation, consensus and team work. For instance when I became Minister for Tourism I was involved in the creation of an all-Ireland tourism organisation. I have been around to most constituencies over the years, I was chairman of the strategy committee for the 1997 election which saw us winning seven additional seats.

I am recognised as a person of sociable nature. People find it easy to talk to me, and access to the leader is crucial to rebuilding the party. I was the bridge to Democratic Left from 1992 to 1994, which laid the basis for the Rainbow Coalition. As for the contention that I don't have the application for the job, I would not be around in Mayo politics for so long if I did not have the application.

VB: What would be distinctive about Fine Gael with you as leader?

EK: I want to give the membership of the party a sense of ownership of the party, leading to a more unified and cohesive party.

VB: You said you would electrocute the party the last time you ran for the leadership, do you still promise to do that?

EK: I didn't say I would electrocute the party, I said I would electrify the party. I think the structures and organisation are outdated in many areas.

VB: What are the three major policy reforms you would advocate?

EK: I would like to think that policy would not be laid down by the leadership; it would be determined by the membership. I would set up a framework within which the policies would be drafted. We are in favour of a strong, free-enterprise society, but balanced with that we have to go on to think about the kind of society we want. When you look at the difficulties on the streets, the rising incidence of young male suicide, the growth of greed and individualism, we have to reform areas in labour law, taxation and planning to develop community life.

VB: Why do you think Fine Gael has declined so drastically in the last 20 years?

EK: There has been far too much infighting, there has been a failure to modernise the party. There has also been a rise in the dissent vote, and Fine Gael has been perceived as an establishment party.

VB: How would you propose to reverse that decline?

EK: We need cohesion and unity and that is where  team-building and an accessible leader is important. Fine Gael has to have a clear message, clear policies with a hard edge.

VB: Would you involve Sinn Féin in a coalition government in five years' time, if the numbers required it?

EK: It's a long way ahead . . . The people who elected Sinn Féin TDs to the Dáil are the same people who elected me . . . 2007 is very far down the road and I do hope that by then the IRA will have been disbanded.

VB: Would you co-operate with Sinn Féin in opposition over the period of this Dáil?

EK: I think it is very important to talk to them in opposition. It is vital we have a strong opposition in the Dáil and it is necessary for Fine Gael to talk to all parties about opposition tactics.

VB: Are you in favour of removing the ban on corporate donations?

EK: You cannot run a professional political party without money. But that would be a matter for the parliamentary party.

VB: Why disenfranchise the senators who will shortly be elected and disenfranchise the party membership in this leadership vote?

EK: Personally I have no problem at all in the membership having a say in the election of a leader. But if the major opposition party were to be without a leader for up to three months, I think it would appear very rudderless and very much in disarray.

VB: Michael Noonan said he favoured asylum-seekers being required to undergo health screening. Do you agree with that?

EK: The first issue here is a tightening up of the Shengen agreements on border controls. Once that is done it would be a matter for the parliamentary party.