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Dublin: 15°C Thursday 18 August 2022

Debate Room: Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe debate the leadership candidates

We will know the new leader of Fine Gael tomorrow. Tonight Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris tell us who they want to prevail.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

THREE EXPERIENCES SPRING to mind when I think of the leadership qualities that Simon Coveney has that make him my choice to be the next leader of Fine Gael and the next Taoiseach of our country.

At the time when I was Minister for the OPW and the country was facing a severe flooding crisis, it was Simon Coveney who stepped up to the plate to assist the families, businesses and farms that were suffering. He didn’t have to get involved but his instinctive response was to get stuck in and make a difference. That spoke volumes about his character to me.

When it came to government formation after the last election, it was Simon who had the stamina, the vision and the sense of responsibility to keep at it until we put together a government for the country.

During that time, his patience, attention to detail, ability to find common ground and reach agreement with those outside our normal political base, really stood out and showed him as someone ready for the unique job of managing party and government.

The toughest of ministries 

Once in that new government, Simon chose the toughest of ministries and set about trying to solve the thorniest problems affecting the country and afflicting the most vulnerable people.

These are his instincts – to face up to challenges, to serve, to help those who need it, to unite people.

So when Simon talks about a “just society”, I know he’s talking about a set of values he really holds dear, acts on as a person and would ensure were at the heart of any government he led.

Fine Gael has demonstrated our ability to rebuild an economy, now we need to show that we believe in and are committed to rebuilding our society.  Yes, we must encourage and reward success but we must also support and encourage the vulnerable.

Simon is passionate about the idea of uniting Ireland by building on the values we share, rather than allowing the political differences we have divide us, and I am proud to share that vision for the future of our country.

Simon Harris is a TD for Wicklow and East Carlow and Minister for Health.

Voting - Fine Gael Leader. Source: Sam Boal

ON THE DAY I declared my support for Leo Varadkar, as the person best placed to be the next leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach of our country, I said he was the most capable politician of my generation. I stand by that claim.

I have known Leo personally, and worked with him in politics, for more than a decade. His intellect, problem-solving capabilities and the fresh approach he brings make him worthy of such gracious plaudits. His performance to date in this leadership contest further reinforces this view.

In Leo, I see the person that is best placed to position Ireland to deal with the challenges, and avail of the opportunities, that will come our way in the years to come. We are living in a changing world, one which sees politics marked not by traditional left and right but by those who encourage openness, tolerance and enhanced interdependence. And those who do not. Leo recognises this better than most and is committed to building a more inclusive and outward looking world. I share this view.

A new social contract

For Ireland, Leo will deliver a new social contract based on equality of opportunity and the contributory principle. His ambitious and expansionary economic policy for Ireland will see the hard won gains of recent years secured so that we have the resources we needed for a more stable future for everyone.

His plan to represent those who “get out of bed early”, speaks, not just to those who get up every morning to go to work, but also to carers, those who are raising a family or retraining to find work. By strengthening our social contract in this way, we build on the progress we have been making so we are enabled to do more in the years ahead.

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Leo’s catch-up plan for the Ireland left behind also speaks to principles that I hold dear. As the Minister for Social Protection, we worked together on the last Budget to increase social welfare payments – for the first time since 2008 – for the most vulnerable in society – carers, the disabled, those who cannot find work or those who cannot go to work.

His economic policy, which includes combining USC and PRSI into a new single payment and setting a revised national debt target are designed to build a more stable tax base and deliver the infrastructure we, as a growing country, need to help us reach our full potential.

In Fine Gael we are exceptionally lucky to have two such accomplished candidates – in Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney – vying to lead our party and our country in these changing and challenging times. Whatever the outcome, Fine Gael will unite behind the victor tomorrow.

For my part, I will be voting for Leo as the person best suited to the job. I will be asking all those within my party to do the same.

Paschal Donohoe is the Fine Gael TD for Dublin Central and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Join the debate. Let us know what you think of the candidates in the comment section below.

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Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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