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'It's disappointing that there are no women in the race and no possibility for first woman Taoiseach'

The race for Fine Gael leadership is underway. What do we actually want from a leader?

Various

LEO VARADKAR AND Simon Coveney are battling it out to become the next Fine Gael leader and very probably Taoiseach. We asked some prominent interest group what they are looking for in the perfect leader.

‘No possibility at this time for Ireland’s first woman Taoiseach’

Over the course of the leadership campaign, at least 140 women will have travelled to access abortion, and many more will have ordered abortion pills online. We would like both Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar to commit to a 2018 referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

It is disappointing that there are no women in the race for leader and therefore no possibility at this time for Ireland’s first woman Taoiseach. It is important that both Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar declare their commitment to advancing women’s equality, and the National Women’s Council of Ireland and our members would like to hear what each of them will do in very concrete terms, to accelerate the pace of change for women’s equality in Ireland.

We need a Taoiseach who will invest in affordable childcare, who will commit the resources needed to end violence against women, and who will show the political leadership needed to close the gender pay and pensions gaps.

The Ireland of the past saw our society exclude and deeply discriminate against women, to the point that only now are we uncovering the horrific consequences, particularly to women, and their children, who didn’t fit with the social and religious norms. We live in a different Ireland now, and both candidates for leadership must clearly state that anything less than equality is not acceptable.

Orla O’Connor is Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland.

‘Higher education has simply not been a priority for Kenny’s governments’

While the ongoing crisis of funding in higher education has its roots in the Fianna Fáil-Green’s administration, a defining feature of Enda Kenny’s premiership has been an unwillingness to handle the major issues facing the education sector. Institutions have been experiencing a prolonged period of decline in terms of quality and standards. The success of higher education has simply not been a priority for Kenny’s governments, even though their strategies for employment and foreign direct investment have depended heavily on it. We’re very keen that the next Taoiseach sees the undeniable value of higher education, and commits to investment of public resource in this important public good.The new Fine Gael leader will also have to take responsibility for the next phase of economic recovery. During the early stages of Kenny’s leadership, the general public was encouraged to withstand austerity measures with the promise that once the economy was back on its feet, things would improve accordingly. In good faith and despite the huge difficulties this posed, people obliged. Families paid more for tuition fees, public servants accepted pay cuts, and services users adapted to diminishing standards. In paying tribute to Kenny’s legacy, both of the candidates have cited Ireland’s economic growth as a key achievement. The winner will assume the responsibility to make that a reality for students, families and working people.

Jack Leahy is Deputy President of the Union of Students in Ireland.

‘Stop discriminating against the self-employed in our tax code’

The home-grown SME sector represents real Ireland; in terms of the economy and also in the social fabric of our towns and villages. SMEs provide the heartbeat to our parishes and towns.

The indigenous sector has met with significant challenges over the last few years. These challenges have multiplied with Brexit, a newly protectionist USA, and domestic pressures such as high business costs, excessive insurance premiums, out-of-control public sector pay expectations, and inequitable commercial rate charges. A leader who fails to deal resolutely with these issues will undermine the survival of many of these small businesses.

Of the €31bn in payroll taxes the exchequer collects, €19bn of it comes from the SME sector. If the next Taoiseach is serious about protecting this, he will:

  • Put as much energy and capital into protecting and growing our SME sector as is devoted to the FDI sector.
  • Stop pouring our national wealth into the pockets of the public sector, and start to invest in 21st century infrastructure for Ireland.
  • Stop discriminating against the self-employed in our tax code, help indigenous entrepreneurs to grow successful, job-rich enterprises.
  • End Ireland’s farcical compensation culture by limiting judicial independence in the setting of general damages awards, and introducing a statutory offence of perjury.
  • Show solidarity with future generations of Irish people by introducing accrual accounting on the national accounts, so that our children will see the costs to them tomorrow of the budgetary decisions we take today.

Neil McDonnell is ISME CEO.

‘Brexit poses the greatest threat to Irish farming in a generation’

Farmers will want to see a leader who demonstrates strong commitment to agriculture and rural Ireland. It is important that the leader recognises the contribution farming makes to the overall economy, and to generating employment and economic activity right across the country. He must place a firm policy focus on achieving the sustainable and profitable growth of family farming and rejuvenating rural Ireland. Brexit poses the greatest threat to Irish farming in a generation – no other country or sector is as exposed as Irish agriculture. A new leader has to recognise and understand the unique difficulties Irish farmers face from Brexit and act in response by putting agriculture at the very top of the agenda in Brexit negotiations.The upcoming Budget will be critical in supporting Irish farmers through the Brexit uncertainty ahead. It is important that the new leader delivers on previous government commitments and ensures adequate funding for farm schemes. Innovative taxation and other supports will also be required to protect against volatility and disruption, and to promote the continued growth of the agri-food sector. It is also important that whoever takes over as leader retains a focus on balanced development and rural services.

Joe Healy is IFA President.

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