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The two-day Fine Gael think-in kicks off in Galway today. Brian Lawless
Fine Gael Think-In

Acting classes ruled out at FG think-in, but party to talk gender pay gap and Budget

Last year, Varadkar was heavily criticised for comments he made to this website insisting that Ireland has “one of the lowest levels of homelessness” .

THE POLITICAL THINK-IN season is in full swing, and next up to hold its annual away days is Fine Gael. 

This will be Leo Varadkar’s second think-in as Taoiseach, with his first inning getting him in a bit of hot water when he was heavily criticised for comments he made to this website insisting that Ireland has “one of the lowest levels of homelessness” despite a record number of people living in emergency accommodation.

His remarks dominated the news cycle for the following two weeks. 

Party think-ins are held by all political parties each year ahead of the Dáil resuming in the autumn. Politicians use them to talk through party plans and ambitions, as well as discuss what their priorities are for the year ahead.

Galway think-in

This year, the party in government is heading to Galway. So, what’s in store?

The Daily Mail on Sunday reported that TDs and senators will be taking part in acting classes today, however Chairman of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Martin Heydon has rejected this, stating that the bonding team-building session at NUIG is focusing on the creative arts and their importance in other industries.

He said parliamentary party members will be taking part in workshops, but no acting classes are due to take place. 

The party will also focus on Budget 2019, what progress is being made with its Rebuilding Ireland strategy, and there will be open discussions on issues relating to housing, health, social welfare, and taxation. 

Health Minister Simon Harris is due to lead a discussion on the structure and ownership of hospitals and schools in Ireland, where it is expected a debate on the separation of Church and State in relation to these key services will take place.

A report outlining a plan to separate Church and State in healthcare is due to feature during this discussion, particularly around the recent suggestion of banning abortion in hospitals with a religious ethos.

A special session on equality and the promotion of women in all roles in life will take place on Friday. It is expected there will be more details emerging from this discussion on the proposed gender pay gap legislation.

Think-ins are notorious for politicians, including taoisigh, making promises.

Last year, Varadkar said Nama would be repurposed into property developer, but this has yet to be delivered. He also committed to the roll out of a sugar tax, which was implemented.

Varadkar is used to being the talk of the town at his party think-ins.

In the past, “loose-lipped Leo” as he was dubbed appeared to overstep the mark at the Fine Gael think-in in 2014 when he suggested the long-mooted tax relief for workers in the Budget would amount to “an extra fiver or tenner in your payslip every week”, which angered some backbenchers as well as the then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Unperturbed, Varadkar (then the health minister) was in good spirits at the social gathering at Fota Island in 2014, where he was witnessed holding court until the small hours and even joined in the sing-song of Tender by Blur, which involved Varadkar reading the lyrics off his phone.

Whether the Taoiseach partakes in another sing-song this year is anyone’s guess, with Varadkar more likely to be in a more subdued mood in light of the recent tit-for-tat between himself and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin over when to have talks about renewing the confidence and supply arrangement, which has sparked talk of a pre-Christmas election.

It’s probably a sure bet that the Taoiseach will be in bed early ahead of the traditional Morning Ireland interview. Taoisigh have learned that lesson well since the Fianna Fáil disaster of 2010.

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