Varadkar is booed at ‘away’ game debate

Varadkar is booed at ‘away’ game debate
Leo Varadkar and of Simon Coveney at the final FG Leadership hustings in Cork. Pic Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

SIMON Coveney and Leo Varadkar exchanged their heaviest blows yet as the Fine Gael leadership campaign began its conclusion in Cork last night.

More than 700 people were packed into the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel last night to watch the two candidates go head to head for the fourth and final time, with voting for members taking place in the same venue tonight.

The raucous hometown crowd was clearly on Mr Coveney's side, but Mr Varadkar had a good showing of supporters, and was warmly received for what he called an "away game."

However, the pair didn't hold back in the debate, with Mr Coveney accusing Mr Varadkar's detailed policy document of being full of promises but not ways to pay for them.

"He has put lots of detail, big commitments like doubling the back to school allowance. Things like that. I deal with five or six big issues, that I want to actually change Ireland with as Taoiseach. What Leo is doing is committing to spending money that we have not yet got," he said.

Responding to criticism about his plans and priorities, Mr Varadkar said that, while they had to govern for everyone, the party had to have priorities.

"It is about priorities because, ultimately, government is about making decisions. Who will you tax, and by how much? What will you fund? What will you defer?" he said.

Mr Varadkar said that he was willing to make those decisions, but indicated that Mr Coveney wasn't.

"If you are not willing to answer those questions you don't have a philosophy, you just have a passionate speech," he said.

He criticised Mr Coveney's Ireland 2040 plan, a long term infrastructure programme set to be launched in the coming weeks.

'Tell me that this plan, that you haven't seen, isn't going to cost you any money," he told the crowd.

Mr Coveney responded by saying that he wanted to plan before spending money.

"To decide actually what we want to achieve, and then to fund the pieces to put that together. Instead, Leo couldn't wait for that, because there was an election underway," adding that he just made a list of promises instead.

Mr Varadkar also attacked Mr Coveney for criticising him in a way that created an artificial ideological debate that was damaging to the party.

"There are enough people out there doing that without us turning on one another. It's divisive and dishonest and not a good way to seek a mandate," he said.

Mr Varadkar was booed at one point when he refused to answer a question on what opposition TD he could see himself appointing to cabinet, and criticised Mr Coveney for expressing his admiration for Eamon Ryan and the Green Party for the third time in four debates.

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