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Taoiseach meets with former Fine Gaeler Fitzpatrick after he said party has become 'style over substance'

The Louth TD had been a vocal campaigner to retain the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution, at odds with his wider party.

Updated Oct 2nd 2018, 7:00 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR met with former Fine Gael TD Peter Fitzpatrick this evening, just a few short hours after he said he was “only there to push a button” and felt the party had become “style over substance”.

The meeting has been described as a “good meeting” with no bad feelings between the two men. 

It is understood the Taoiseach is hopeful that Fitzpatrick will continue to support the government as an independent TD for the foreseeable future. 

Earlier today, Fitzpatrick spoke to RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke about his resignation from the party last night, where he said his views weren’t always listened to and he felt isolated within the party. 

“I felt myself I had an awful lot more to offer Fine Gael,” he said this morning, adding that his “hands were tied”. 

In a statement yesterday evening, Fitzpatrick said he had backed the party “when some very difficult decisions had to be taken” but, over the past 15 months, he had “not been given the same support from Fine Gael as [he] had given them”.

The Louth TD had been a vocal campaigner to retain the Eighth Amendment in the Constitution, at odds with his wider party. 

He was in a minority of retain supporters on the Oireachtas Committee on the matter, and it was expected he would have defied the government whip in voting against proposed abortion legislation due before the Dáil in the coming weeks.

As explained here, Fitzpatrick’s resignation represents a potential headache for the Fine Gael minority government, which holds a very slim majority when Fianna Fáil abstains.

In July, Fitzpatrick informed the party he wouldn’t be seeking to be put forward for its nomination in Louth at the next general election.

He told Sean O’Rourke today: “I received a phone call from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asking would I change my mind, and I said no.”

Fitzpatrick said he told the Taoiseach that he would support Fine Gael going forward, if he felt it was right.

“I feel as though things have improved, but the middle class as far as I’m concerned aren’t being looked after,” he said, adding that there are serious problems in housing and education. 

“Fine Gael gave Peter Fitzpatrick an opportunity seven or eight years ago to be a TD, and I’m very grateful for that,” Fitzpatrick said. 

Following today’s interview, the Taoiseach met with Fitzpatrick earlier this evening.

A spokesman for Varadkar’s told reporters earlier this afternoon that the Taoiseach had a “good conversation” with Fitzpatrick back in August, when reports were first emerging locally that he might be leaving the party. 

He said there was a “frank discussion” at the time, but an “understanding” was obtained at that stage that he would remain, adding “there was nothing decided at that time”. 

Last week, senior government sources stated they did not believe Fitzpatrick would take the plunge and leave, but added that the government had the numbers to pass the Budget either way.

The spokesman confirmed the Taoiseach made no contact with Fitzpatrick when news of his possible resignation reemerged late last week.

Contact was made through government chief whip Joe McHugh and Fine Gael chair Martin Heydon. A spokesman said Fitzpatrick could have contacted the Taoiseach, adding that Varadkar has always had an “open door” policy for backbench TDs.

They added the government aims to pass next week’s Budget by a similar margin to last week’s motion in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, which passed 59-49 with Fianna Fáil’s abstention.

Fitzpatrick said he will stand as an independent in the next general election, and said he believes he can act as a strong, independent voice for the people of Louth. 

“I’m not a career politician… what people see, people get,” he added.

With additional reporting by Christina Finn

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