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Sasko Lazarov
Back in the fold

Kate O'Connell says Varadkar was a 'barrier to re-entry' to Fine Gael party

Simon Harris embraced former Dublin bay South TD Kate O’Connell when he arrived at the FG Ard Fheis today.

FORMER TD KATE O’Connell has said Leo Varadkar was always considered by her and some others in Fine Gael as a “barrier to re-entry” to the party. 

She told The Journal at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Galway today that she was “surprised” when she heard Varadkar was departing as Taoiseach, but felt that ”there was an opportunity there”.

It is no secret that there is no love lost between O’Connell and Varadkar over the years. 

During the Fine Gael leadership contest in 2017, she sparked controversy when she described Varadkar’s backers as “choirboys” who were “singing for their supper”.

O’Connell had supported Minister Simon Coveney in the race. O’Connell, who is a pharmacist, lost her seat in 2020.

She was not supported by the Fine Gael national executive for a Seanad seat after losing her seat as a TD. She was also not selected to run in the Dublin-Bay South by-election when Eoghan Murphy stepped down.

When asked today if she is interested in running again in the general election for Dublin Bay South, she said:

“I haven’t decided that nor has the Taoiseach elect asked me to be.” 

When put to her that she wouldn’t shy away from such an opportunity, she replied with smile:

I’m here aren’t I.

266Fine Gael Ard Fheis_90702793 O'Connell received a warm welcome from Simon Harris in Galway today. Sasko Lazarov Sasko Lazarov

Posing for photos with Simon Harris upon his arrival at University of Galway, several party members at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis told O’Connell it was “good to have her back” and said “I’ll vote for you”. 

Simon Harris becoming Taoiseach is something O’Connell sees as a “bit of a restart. It’s a rebirth”.

‘I’m ready to win again’

“I was lucky to get elected the first day I got elected. It’s hard to lose. I’m ready to win again. I’m ready to lose again,” he added.

Today, for her, is about supporting Harris “politically, personally, and professionally”, she said. 

“I was loyal to him. I see him as a very hard worker. I see him as someone that has the drive and I see him as someone that draws from those around him,” said O’Connell.

Speaking about Varadkar, O’Connelly said: “I mean, you can’t deny that Leo Varadkar in the last number of years has had a very challenging time as a leader.”

O’Connell mentioned he had to lead through Covid, the rise in interest rates and the economic knock-on effects of that.

“Leo’s greatest achievement was the fact that we had to doctor as Taoiseach during a pandemic. I don’t think that can be overstated enough,” she added. 

However, she said “it would be nice to be able to go to more visionary politics”, adding:

Ireland has been dying for change for a long time and I believe Simon Harris can be that change. 

‘Woke’ issues

When asked about some comments made by her party colleagues such as Michael Ring and Charlie Flanagan about the party abandoning “woke” social issues, O’Connell said:

“I’m finding it very hard to find a definition for what the woke agenda is. I don’t see women’s rights as being woke, I see it as necessary. I don’t see equality as being woke, I see it as necessary. I don’t see diversity as being woke, I see as as being necessary,” she added. 

“I think there possibly is feeling within the party and definitely among some of the more senior members, that there was no electoral benefit to what they might label as ‘woke’, or whatever. But for me, Fine Gael has always been to the fore when it’s come to social change, and possibly never got the credit for it. Is politics about credit? Is it not about doing things and changing Ireland for the better for all its people?

“So regardless of what is woke or isn’t woke, social issues for me, equal pay for women, equal opportunity for women, and equal access to medical care, that we need, by virtue of the fact that we are women, will always be very much the fore of my agenda,” said O’Connell.

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