Republic of Ireland news

Fine Gael admits to having a poor summer as minister vows to ‘take on Sinn Féin'

 Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Rural and Community Development and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys at the Fine Gael party think-in in Co Meath. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire
Cate McCurry and Dominic McGrath, PA

Senior Fine Gael ministers have admitted that the party did not have a good summer, with the crisis surrounding Katherine Zappone overshadowing its progress in dealing with Covid.

Ministers at the Fine Gael think-in said they are “determined” to turn the state of the party around in a bid to connect to its electorate.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party gathered in Trim in Co Meath for its think-in.

It is the first time the party has met fully in person since July 2019.

Despite the successful rollout of the vaccine programme, the party has been blighted by the controversy surrounding Ms Zappone in her appointment to a UN special envoy role.

Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said it was a “difficult summer” in which party members felt “let down”.

“It will be an opportunity to refresh ourselves, to regroup and reset after what was not a good summer for Fine Gael, but more importantly to rebound and focus on the really important work that we are going to over the next couple of months,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The easing of the Covid restrictions, the booster vaccination programme, the budget, which we want to use to protect incomes and to improve public services and get businesses open again.”

Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys to said: “I have to accept that it hasn’t been a good summer.

“But I have to say the mood is buoyant and we have a job of work to do.

“There’s a lot of things that we need to focus on and that’s what we’re going to do in the next term and government.

“I certainly do not believe that we are not connected to our electorate, we certainly are.”

The latest poll shows that Sinn Féin is leading Fine Gael by 10 points.

The poll, published by the Sunday Times shows that Fine Gael dropped two points to 23%, while Mary Lou McDonald’s party jumped three percentage points to 33%.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe also admitted the party did not have a good summer, but vowed to “take Sinn Féin on” during the next Dail term.

“I will be the first to acknowledge that across the last number of weeks and months there were things we wished we could have done differently,” Mr Donohoe said.

“So in acknowledging what we got wrong, we are also facing into the coming months determined to build on the progress we’ve made and we will take Sinn Féin on, we’ll take them on in the Dáil, we’ll take them on in our constituencies.

“We will point to what we’ve done, point to what we’re going to do better and expose them for the lack of any plan for the challenges and the opportunities that our country faces.”

Earlier, Siptu staged a protest outside the Fine Gael think-in, accusing the government of privatising local employment offices.

The trade union protest took place today.

A crowd gathered outside the hotel where the think-in is taking place.

Adrian Kane, a Siptu organiser, told the PA news agency that the government was not listening to their concerns.

Siptu, he said, was calling for the creation of a “stakeholder forum” in which workers, representatives and the government could “sit down and agree a way forward”.

The union says that the government is overseeing a process that will allow private companies to bid for contracts to run local employment schemes and programmes.

“The people who have gathered from all over the country have been giving a professional service for the last quarter of a century.

“And a tendering process has now been put in place that will essentially privatise a service that has been provided for a not-for-profit basis,” Mr Kane said.

“The tendering process is designed that for-profit providers would win this tender.”

Mr Kane said that they were seeking a meeting with Ms Humphreys to find a solution.

“We’re here, on behalf of the people who work in the service.

“But we’re also here on behalf of the unemployed people as well.

“Because people furthest from the labour market won’t be able to access the service under this new tendering process.”

“It’ll be designed to ensure that unemployed people will be commodified.”

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Republic of Ireland news