Taoiseach Enda Kenny has urged voters to return the Coalition for the sake of the recovery as two senior ministers ruled out alternatives and insisted no pre-election talks with Independents have taken place.
As the Fine Gael leader opened the party’s high-profile two-day ard fheis amid concerns over a gun cartridge find at the site, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney claimed no alternatives are being sought.
Speaking as he arrived at the meeting, Mr Noonan told reporters that claims Fine Gael would consider an alternative to Labour are incorrect.
Responding to comments from Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald that she would not rule out a deal with Fianna Fáil, Mr Noonan said this will not happen.
“I didn’t hear Frances’ interview, but our proposition is it was the present Government that initiated the recovery and delivered it, and our proposition is to re-elect the Government.
“We’re going to make sure through the campaign the numbers [to achieve this] will stack up,” he said, before describing his own comments in an interview with the Limerick Leader at Christmas that a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition would “hand” the next election to Sinn Féin as a “philosophical conversation”.
Speaking earlier in the day after an RTÉ report that Fine Gael may hold talks with four potentially key Independent TDs — including Tipperary-based Michael Lowry — in order to ensure the coalition obtains the necessary 80-plus seats, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney was equally adamant the current Government make-up is the only one on the party’s agenda. “I’m very close to the centre of Fine Gael in preparing for the election and I know nothing about that,” he said, adding that “I don’t think there’s any point in having talks before an election” and predicting Labour will do better than existing polls suggest.
The same position emphasising the need to return the current Fine Gael-Labour Government was repeatedly underlined by Mr Kenny during his opening ard fheis speech last night, with the Taoiseach insisting the election will be “crucially important” to the future of the Irish economy.
Despite fears the growing crisis in the Chinese economy and the rise in oil prices will impact on the Irish recovery, and recent European Commission criticism budget 2016’s give-away plans have put improvements at risk, Mr Kenny said “everybody now recognises there is a recovery underway” and that his Government has created it.
EK: The recovery is still fragile & incomplete. We will not take it for granted. Now is not the time for complacency. #fgaf16— Fine Gael (@FineGael) January 22, 2016
The Fine Gael leader said the “central question” in the election will be “who can be relied upon to keep this recovery going” and said the vote will be based on “job creation”, the recovery and “ensuring work pays”.
— Enda Kenny (@EndaKennyTD) January 22, 2016
While he did not mention Sinn Féin by name at any point in his 15-minute speech, Mr Kenny pointedly criticised “economic populism in some eurozone countries that threatens to undo” recoveries and that “now is not the time to take risks”.
The Taoiseach was equally critical of Fianna Fáil, accusing their own party leader Micheál Martin of “shamelessly” trying to claim credit for the “programme for recovery” implemented by the current Government.
Asked about the world economic difficulties before the speech and the first series of motions designed to promote Fine Gael’s jobs and recovery strategy last night, Mr Noonan accepted “at the moment it looks as if we’re moving to an uncertain period again” but insisted Ireland is “reasonably well positioned”.
“While we’re aware of certain external risks we can’t just stop doing something because there are some risks.”
Meanwhile, former justice minister Alan Shatter said he would be interested in returning to cabinet if the party returns to power and he is re-elected.
The Dublin South TD told UTV Ireland every politician wants to be in cabinet and that he would be in favour of making an unexpected return to the fold if Fine Gael is in power after the imminent national vote.
- Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
NGOs, charities, and other groups holding exhibits at Fine Gael’s ard fheis are being charged for the privilege.
A Fine Gael spokesperson said the fees are to cover set-up costs and are not de facto donations.
The charges are based on the cost of exhibit stands (€153-€306), name cards (€15), lighting (two spotlights and use of a socket costing €75) and electricity.
Other extras include an upholstered chair (€19.50), bin (€16.50), coffee table (€45.50), high stool (€30), brochure holder (€45), and plasma screen TV (€320).
Although fees have also been charged in the past, a number of NGOs said they have never been this high, while Fianna Fáil said it waived fees for housing, mental health and end-of-life care groups “working on the front-line” at its ard fheis at the same location last week.
A Fine Gael spokesperson said the party “has to provide what is effectively a temporary exhibition centre to accommodate this aspect of its ard fheis” and the party “accrues no profit” from the fees.
Meanwhile, Labour will not allow any independent exhibits at its ard fheis for “operational reasons”.
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