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Leo: Some people told me to shut up and keep my head down

The Fine Gael national conference has been talking crime and the economic recovery this morning.

Updated 3.05pm

leo Leo Varadkar addressing delegates this morning. Source: Hugh O'Connell/TheJournal.ie

HEALTH MINISTER LEO Varadkar has said some people have told him to stop being honest in what he says about the state of the health service.

Addressing delegates on day two of the Fine Gael national conference, the Fine Gael TD said some people told him his job was impossible and he should steer clear of his infamous straight-talking style.

In his pre-prepared remarks, Varadkar stated: “Some people told me that the job was impossible, and that I had to stop being so honest in what I said, or I might alienate my own party members. That I should shut up and keep my head down.”

As delegates gathered in Castlebar, Fine Gael took aim at the economic policies of the opposition and talked-up its own achievements in government.

In a televised session on ‘securing the recovery’, the Fine Gael MEP and former junior minister, Brian Hayes referred to the “Gerry Adams formula” and sarcastically described the Sinn Féin leader as “that great economic guru from West Belfast”.

Later, Varadkar said that Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin were now even holding joint press conferences on the Leinster House plinth.

“In Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein we have two very damaged parties: one which undermined the country through sheer incompetence, and another which undermined the country deliberately and by design. Neither can be trusted.” he said.

A small protest of around 170 people gathered outside the Royal Theatre at around lunchtime.

Fine Gael Conference - Securing The Re Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Dublin South-Central TD Catherine Byrne received warm applause for her call to ”take back our flag” from those using it in recent protests against water charges and other issues.

It was a view echoed by the Arts Minister Heather Humphreys who told delegates in a session on the 1916 commemorations: ”Some have used our flag to portray a different message – it’s time to reclaim our flag.”

Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who returned from the Greek negotiations in Brussels late last night, received a standing ovation from delegates.

He signalled that there would be further tax cuts in the next Budget, particularly in the area of universal social charge, saying that the government hoped to take 90,000 further people out of the tax in the next Budget.

He pledged to further reduce the taxation burden if Fine Gael is re-elected.

Asked if he would like to stay on as Minister for Finance beyond the next election, the Limerick TD said “the Taoiseach will have to be consulted”.

Several speakers warned of the consequences of electing a Sinn Féin government or returning Fianna Fáil to power after the next election.

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton claimed that Sinn Féin is proposing to add €5 billion in extra taxes over and above the measures that the coalition “has had to bring in”.

“That means €3,000 in extra taxes per family, killing jobs and economic growth,” Bruton said in his speech.

Junior finance minister Simon Harris used a car analogy to say that the voters should not hand back control of the country to Fianna Fáil.

“This government is like mechanics. We’ve fixed the Irish car, we’ve taken it out of the ditch, we’ve put it on the road,” he explained.

“Now we’re ready for the next part of the journey. The last thing we can afford is to give the car back to the people who crashed it.”

The conference heard that Ireland has one of the highest rates of child benefit in the world with several speakers reinforcing the belief that work must always pay.

Bobbies on the beat

In an earlier session, the justice minister minister said she wants gardaí out on the streets in a bid to crackdown on crime, describing it as “the enemy of every family, every neighbourhood, every business”.

In her speech to delegates in the Royal Theatre, Frances Fitzgerald also announced that she was considering the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

The new body would incorporate the Garda Inspectorate, the Inspector of Prisons and the Probation Service and would be modelled on a similar service in Northern Ireland.

In a tough-talking speech, Fitzgerald said that Fine Gael was “determined to face down crime and criminals”.

She said that people wanted gardaí out on the streets and not paper pushing or desk-bound.

“I’ve sent a clear, simple message to An Garda Síochána: get the Gardaí out from behind their desks. Get them onto the streets, where we can see them. And – just as important – where the criminals can see them,” she said.

The Dublin Mid-West TD said that she would publish Criminal Justice Terrorist Offences Bill close to Easter.

Fitzgerald also announced that she would bring proposals to government within the next month to reform the law on bail and said she’s considering changing sentencing law so that repeat offenders serve consecutive sentences.

During a debate session entitled ‘Crackdown on Crime’, delegates heard that the recently re-opened Templemore Garda training college would never be closed again under Fine Gael.

Follow @oconnellhugh and @TJ_Politics for coverage of the Fine Gael national conference in Castlebar this weekend. 

Read: Tight security as Enda’s Fine Gael homecoming opens with a warning

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Hugh O'Connell

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