Paschal Donohoe: Why Leo Varadkar should be Taoiseach

He values the principle of the ‘Just Society’ and a dynamic, outward-looking Ireland

In his bid to become leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar has released a campaign video detailing his agenda if elected. Video: Campaign for Leo

 

Declan Costello, the author of Fine Gael’s Towards a Just Society, was once a TD for the part of Dublin that I now represent. It is a huge privilege to follow in his footsteps.

Since my appointment as a Minister, I have kept a copy of his document in my office. It sits beside a book called Towards a New Ireland by Garret FitzGerald.

It was written in 1972, seven years after Costello’s text, and discusses how a peaceful, united Ireland would look and, importantly, what steps needed to be taken to respecting all outlooks and religious backgrounds on the island to achieve unification.

Another intellectual parent of the just society was Michael Sweetman, the author and visionary industrialist who died tragically aged 36.

In March 2014, I was honoured to give the inaugural Michael Sweetman Memorial Lecture, noting in my remarks that Sweetman would no doubt champion the role the European Union has played in progressing social justice in this country.

FG leadership tracker: track the contest and check who your local TD, Senator, MEP and councillor is supporting

So while I cannot claim the personal, familial connection to the just society that Mark FitzGerald so eloquently referred to in last week’s Irish Times, I can say that it is the guiding compass of my membership of Fine Gael and frames my political outlook.

My choice in the leadership election does not blind me to the immense capacities of Simon Coveney. It has been a privilege to work with him over the years and I look forward to continuing to do so in any way possible.

I have seen at first hand his skills and strengths, and while it might be cliched to say we are lucky as a party to have two such strong candidates, it is also true.

Three good reasons

My support for Leo Varadkar, though, comes from my belief that he values the just society as much as I do and places its spirit in a modern, outward-looking and dynamic Ireland. I hold this view for three reasons.

Firstly, the just society says Fine Gael seeks office “to work towards a society in which freedom and equality are not concepts in a textbook but are expressed in real and tangible conditions which all our people can enjoy”. So does Varadkar.

His belief in equality of opportunity is shown by commitment to reform of our social-welfare system.

It is also evident in his commitment to tackling disadvantage when he increased jobseekers’ allowance and other social-welfare payments for the first time in several years.

Fine Gael is in the process of reshaping the centre ground of Irish politics

Secondly, the just society stresses the importance of social investment and better economic planning. Social investment, as the name suggests, sees the State invest in people through education, childcare, healthcare and social supports.

Proposals to integrate our USC and PRSI systems and set a revised national-debt target offer a new macroeconomic policy model to allow Ireland to respond to new opportunities and risks. This is a framework for targeted economic intervention to support our society.

And thirdly, Costello’s vision is an internationalist one, and so is Leo’s. He has anchored his proposals in a recognition of a global Ireland in a globalised world, rooted in a principal of openness- while others look to borders and walls, Ireland will take a different path.

His focus on the benefits of globalisation, when properly managed, speaks to our DNA which excels at trade and exchange between peoples.

Changing world

So let’s be clear that when Leo speaks about representing those who “get out of bed early”, it is not just those who go to work, but those caring for relatives, looking for a job, retraining or staying at home to look after their children.

By strengthening our social contract with them, we can have the resources to do more for all.

Old-fashioned ideas of left and right are just that: old-fashioned. Increasingly in modern politics, the real divide is between those who wish to trade, co-operate and thrive in a globalised world and those who portray such globalisation, and the institutions that support it, as the enemy.

Politicians such as Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron understand this and chart a course for their countries based on openness and tolerance, rooted firmly in the political centre. They understand that complex answers to simple questions does not make those answers wrong.

Fine Gael is in the process of reshaping the centre ground of Irish politics, not moving away from it. Leo and the entire Fine Gael leadership election process have the potential to, and I believe will create a stronger and energised Irish political centre for a changing world.

Paschal Donohoe is Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform

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