All Fine Gael members selected to run in the next general election will gather today, adding to speculation that Leo Varadkar is preparing to go to the country.
The annual party think-in of TDs, senators and MEPS has been expanded to include those who have been added to tickets across the country in recent weeks and months.
Fine Gael have in fact held selection conventions in all but five constituencies and additional candidates have been added to some tickets by the party executive council.
The party intensified its election efforts in the wake of the whistleblower email scandal which led to the departure of Frances Fitzgerald as tánaiste and justice minister and brought the country to the brink of an election late last year.
Over the summer, Fine Gael has ramped up the number of selection conventions to ensure it is ready at short notice.
However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar yesterday remained adamant that he wants the current Government to remain in place for another tow years.
Seaking on the Aran Islands Mr Varadkar urged Fianna Fáil to agree to an extension of the confidence and supply deal to avoid a general election.
“The confidence and supply agreement expires in the next couple of months and I would like to renew it would like to set a date for an election in the summer of 2020, give us political stability, remove any uncertainty about when or when not an election may be held. We think there should be an election in the summer of 2020 thus giving us certainly, political stability and removing uncertainty about an early election,” he said.
A Fine Gael source said the party does not want a general election but is ready for any snap vote.
While Fine Gael sources said a specific election manifesto has not been drawn up they said Mr Varadkar’s rolling policy paper, which he adopted after becoming leader, would effectively act as a policy document if an election was called. “It’s not only designed for an election, it’s also designed to influence Government policy on an ongoing basis,” the source said.
The 2016 general election saw the party lose 26 sets including high-profile candidates such as James Reilly, Jerry Buttimer, Alan Shatter and Jimmy Deenihan.
The minority Government set-up has meant the party has been on shaky ground with the threat of an election looming. Indeed, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will face a vote of no-confidence when the Dáil returns in two weeks time.
Fine Gael will be under pressure to recoup the losses from the last election and has been working hard to put forward fresh faces with a strong profile.
Emer, daughter of former minister Austin Currie, has been selected to run alongside Mr Varadkar in Dublin West, while in the Dublin Mid West constituency will see an all-female ticket with Frances Fitzgerald and Cllr Emer Higgins selected as running mates.
With gender quotas in place since the 2016 election, Fine Gael have put an emphasis on selecting strong women.
First-time candidate Sinead Maguire was recently selected to run in Sligo Leitrim along with former TD Gerry Reynolds.
In Tipperary, vet Mary Newman-Julian, a sister of Fine Gael Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell and Garret Ahearn have been selected.
Meanwhile, in Cork North West the party have recruited former Independent councillor John Paul O’Shea to run alongside Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
As would be expected the party have selected a number of senators to run for the Dáil. These include Tim Lombard in Cork South West, Jerry Buttimer in Cork South Central, Neale Richmond in Dublin Rathdown and Catherine Noone in Dublin Bay North.
Tim Lombard looks for electric drive to reclaim Fine Gael heartland
If Tim Lombard can get just a small fraction of the 72,000 people who viewed his recent online clip to vote for him, he will have no problem winning a seat in the Dáil.
Unfortunately, the Fine Gael Seanad spokesman on climate change failed to make it as far as Leinster House when he filmed his trip from his home in Kinsale to Dublin.
His electric car only had 38km left by the time he reached the halfway point and he was forced to stop in Portlaoise to charge the eco-friendly vehicle.
Despite the road bump, Mr Lombard, a father of four who has been married to Catherine for 11 years, is adamant he can reclaim traditional Fine Gael territory in the Cork South West constituency after being nominated to run alongside junior minister Jim Daly.
“Traditionally it would have been one of the strongest Fine Gael constituencies in Ireland,” he said.
“I think in eight out of the last 11 elections, we would have had two out of the three seats. It really is a Fine Gael heartland.”
Mr Lombard is a strong ally of Simon Coveney and was a key member in his team during the Fine Gael leadership content.
“My affiliation with Simon Coveney is well known, we would have been members of the same branch of Fine Gael for many years and we have a great association.
“In 2003 when I first entered the council, a long time ago now, I would have been replacing Simon Coveney and I have a track record of getting elected since then.”
And while he may have been the right-hand man of the Tánaiste, he is adamant he can represent rural dwellers and farmers on the western extremes of the constituency.
“I am actually one of the few dairy farmers that are part of the Dáil or Seanad, so I am very involved in rural Ireland and have a great grasp of that.”
In order to claim back what Fine Gael believe is rightly its own, Mr Lombard will have to unseat Independent TD Michael Collins.
“I think the wave of support for Independents that was there in 2016 has really dropped, you saw Independents getting votes in every box in every constituency — that, I think, won’t happen this time.
“I think this election will be won on national issues,” he said.
Sinead Maguire eyes next political challenge
The departure of sitting Fine Gael TD Tony McLoughlin means the Sligo-Leitrim constituency is wide open — Sinead Maguire is confident she can fill the gap.
Relatively new to politics, she surprised many by securing the Fine Gael nomination at the recent constituency convention, which was attended by some 1,000 party members.
The solicitor saw off former junior minister John Perry and former senator Michael Comiskey, with senator Frank Feighan withdrawing from the race.
She will now contest the next general election with former TD Gerry Reynolds.
“There were nine people who put themselves forward so it was a very competitive convention, I was up against some extremely good candidates, ex-TDs and senators, people who would have much more experience than me, however, I feel that my track record on the council stood to me.”
Ms Maguire is prepared for the fight — indeed her introduction to politics at a local level was not what she expected as she received little or no support from party colleagues.
She first became interested in politics when she saw that many of the issues impacting young families were not being addressed. She was first elected to Sligo County Council in the 2014 local elections.
Although she had come from the male-dominated world of criminal law, Ms Maguire said this was a “different ball game”.
She has carved out a space at local level and for her politics in the blood — her great-grandfather was a member of the first county council in Leitrim, a fact she only found out after being elected a councillor herself.
She is confident there is space for two Fine Gael TDs in the four-seater Sligo- Leitrim constituency.
To do so Fine Gael will have to push out one of the two sitting Fianna Fáil TDs, Marc MacSharry and Eamon Scanlon, or would have to target Martin Kenny’s single Sinn Féin seat.
Ms Maguire, 43, who lives with husband Kieran Quinn and young daughter, said: “I think there is definitely potential, I think we have a very strong ticket and if we run a good campaign we have a very good chance.
“Tony [McLoughlin] leaves a legacy behind of work and a strong record of delivering and representing his constituents. I would hope to fill that gap.”
John Paul O’Shea: From Independent to FG candidate
Luring popular councillor John Paul O’Shea into the ranks was part of a Fine Gael strategy to re-establish its dominance in Cork after hemorrhaging seats in the last election.
Standing as an Independent candidate Mr O’Shea, 34, lost out on the third seat by just 249 votes in the 2016 general election and now believes that being on the ballot a Fine Gael candidate in the next election will give him the extra votes he needs.
A native of Lombardstown, outside Mallow, he will contest the next election in Cork North West alongside sitting Agriculture Minister Michael Creed.
“The constituency traditionally has been one Fine Gael seat, one Fianna Fáil seat and the third has been up for grabs. So I would be hoping would be able to get that seat.”
He was first elected to Cork County Council as an Independent in 2009 before being re-elected in 2014. He served as Cork County mayor between 2015 and 2016.
And so putting himself forward for national politics was a “natural progression”. “It’s a different role, as a national politician you are involved in the creation of legislation which often impacts on decisions at a local level.
“I feel that I can certainly put my shoulder to the wheel when it comes to the development of legislation.
“When the party approached me late last year it was something I was certainly going to consider because I have the desire to represent people nationally and I know the people of Cork North West are crying out for good representation,” said Mr O’Shea who works part-time with the HSE in the Cork-Kerry region.
He said his own policies would not have been dissimilar to Fine Gael so it was not a huge leap to move over to the party.
Joining Leo Varadkar’s team, which includes many new and young faces, was also one of the reasons he decided to join the political party and run for Fine Gael next time around.
“I think it’s a great sign and is a new way of politics,” he said.
Emer Higgins: ‘I have a young fresh approach’
Tuesday, November 28, 2017, is a night Emer Higgins will never forget.
Frances Fitzgerald had just hours before resigned as tánaiste and justice minister after a slow drip feed of information in the whistleblower email controversy which had brought the country to the brink of a general election.
Now, with the possibility of a government collapse still in sight, Ms Fitzgerald had again secured a nomination to run in the next general election at her constituency selection convention in Lucan.
It was also the night that Ms Higgins was placed on the ticket with Ms Fitzgerald.
“I think it is a night that neither of us will forget in a hurry,” the South Dublin councillor says.
“I was selected back in the uncertain days back in the end of November and early December when it looked like there was an election looming. That was the background to me being added to the ticket so since that day I have to be ready for what happens if here is a general election tomorrow, that’s the type of mentality you have to have.”
She will be contesting the local elections in May and will be standing in the Clondalkin local electoral area.
But being involved in community organisations and events is just as important to her as politics.
Ms Higgins, who became involved in politics while studying in UCD, claims she is just as likely to be “mortifying” herself up on stage at a charity lip sync battle for the local GAA club as she is canvassing in the area. “Ultimately politics is about representing your community.”
The 33-year-old, who works for a multinational company in West Dublin, hopes to be part of Leo Varadkar’s new generation of politicians and sees her age as a positive.
“Frances was the most senior female in Government so she is bringing a huge amount of experience. But I believe I have a young fresh approach and I think it is a nice balance.
“We both have very different things to bring and I think we would make a very good team,” she said.
Mary Newman-Julian hoping to make the Dáil a family affair
Having a sister already ensconced in Leinster House is certainly not a disadvantage, but Mary Newman-Julian will be fighting for a Dáil seat based on her own merits.
“People do identify me as Kate O’Connell’s sister but then a lot of people in Tipperary are not really interested in a TD based in Dublin, it’s not relevant to them,” she says.
Since being added to the Tipperary Fine Gael ticket almost nine weeks ago, Ms Newman-Julian has taken a leave of absence from her veterinary job to focus full-time on politics and has opened a constituency office in Thurles.
Like her outspoken sister Kate, who was elected in the tightly contested Dublin Bay South constituency in 2016, Ms Newman-Julian believes she has a strong work ethic and the ability to listen to people — which she says is needed in national politics.
“I will stand on my own merit within the constituency of Tipperary, I have been here for a long time and am well known.
“I believe it’s possible to win two seats for Fine Gael in Tipperary and I certainly hope to do that come the next general election. My primary focus is on a general election.”
Fine Gael suffered a massive defeat in Tipperary in 2016 when it was left without a seat, something the party is keen to rectify.
The party will now be looking to oust one, if not two, of the sitting TDs — Independents Michael Lowry, Mattie McGrath, and Seamus Healy, Labour’s Alan Kelly, and Fianna Fáil’s Jackie Cahill.
Ms Newman-Julian, who will run alongside Garret Ahearn, believes the lack of a Government TD has damaged the county.
“To have no Government representation in a constituency the size of Tipperary is disappointing and I think Tipperary has suffered as a result of that in the past two years and I would hope to be able to rectify that come the next election whenever that may be.”
Ms Newman-Julian added: “On the ground there definitely seems to be a fair bit of support for Fine Gael and at the convention the members definitively voted in favour of change and newer candidates and the two candidates that were first and second at convention are now on the ticket.
“So we are working hard as a team to maximise the Fine Gael vote in Tipperary.”
Emer Currie: Politics ‘is in my blood, but it was never inevitable’
Given her family surname many expected that running for election would be a natural choice for Emer Currie.
But for the mother of two — who moved from the North to Dublin when she was 12 after the election of her father Austin as a TD — seeking a Dáil seat wasn’t that clear-cut.
“It’s in my blood, but it was never inevitable, or I never thought it was inevitable, the people around me thought it was inevitable that I would get into politics but I didn’t,” she said.
Ms Currie has been selected in one of the most contentious constituencies, Dublin West, where her running mate will be the most high-profile candidate in the country, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
But while her family is steeped in politics it was only when she became a mother herself and came up against the challenges many couples face that she finally decided to take the plunge.
“I am a parent now and I am going through things that everyone else with a family is going through,” she said.
“I think we need more practical supports for parents.
“I think people are busier than ever. We need more supports in general.
“It’s an issue that women are in employment at 86% when they don’t have children and that drops to 57% when they have children under three and it only goes up to 58% if their kids are over six.
“So we have an issue here,” said Ms Currie, who added the fact that it is often easier for women to stay at home to mind their children than to return to work needs to be challenged.
Ms Currie, who previously worked closely with former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald in Dublin Mid- West, believes that being on the same ticket as the Taoiseach is an advantage.
“The natural profile that he gets spills onto me, that to me is an advantage, but overall Fine Gael need to be focused on bringing in as many seats as possible and we have a good team so that’s the way to do it.
“Yes, it’s a high-profile constituency, I am just focused on what I think is relevant and the policies that I am interested in.
“You don’t get into politics because of the way the constituency is, you get into politics because you believe in what you are saying,” she said.