Key points from the Fine Gael leadership debate

Elaine Loughlin rounds up both candidates’ key messages...


  • His key message was focussed on the creation of a fair and just society and unifying people. He said he would work to make a better society for “the man in the sleeping bag on Grafton Street tonight, as well as the man creating 1,000 jobs”.
  • He promised to set up a permanent anti-corruption and transparency commission which would have the powers of a High Court judge and would respond to whistleblowers.
  • He pointed to the numerous inquiries set up by ministers and said he would favour one permanent, well resourced independent commission.
  • He denied he was “left or right” adding that, as Housing Minister, if you walk by a homeless person in the street you have a responsibility to assist them.
  • Mr Coveney said the party must learn from its past failures. He said Fine Gael had got its messaging wrong during the last general election by using costly and slick focus groups when they should have been listening to “rooms like this” of grassroots members.
  • He argued that the annual Ard Fheis has become “all about the leader’s speech and the build up to it” and that would have to change to become more of an “active debating chamber “ to allow all members have a voice in deciding on important policy.


  • Creating a new social contract is the cornerstone of Mr Varadkar’s campaign, giving more benefits for those who work and would include a new pension system. He again spoke about people “who get up early in the morning”.
  • He said his mission is to make the lives of the self-employed, carers, commuters, and those who work in the public and private sectors better.
  • Mr Varadkar stressed the need to give members and councillors a say and told the crowd that electing a new leader should not be the end of democracy in the party. He put forward the idea of establishing a special delegate conference which would allow all members to decide on whether it should go into Government in future.
  • He said that the current party manifesto, which he compared to the “third secret of Fatima”, should be replaced with a rolling manifesto which could be changed and updated on a regular basis.
  • Mr Varadkar said there is a need for a “catch-up plan” for rural areas, as it is evident that Ireland is experiencing a “two-speed recovery”. While not laying out specific ideas he did stress the importance of ensuring the recovery benefits “all communities”.

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