Leo Varadkar is Fine Gael’s 10-year overnight success. First elected to Dáil Éireann in 2007 as a TD for Dublin West, Varadkar has held three ministerial portfolios in Government: social protection, health, and transport, tourism and sport.

Now he is in the running to be the next leader of Fine Gael and the youngest Taoiseach in the history of the State. But what does the next potential Taoiseach of Ireland stand for? Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal at the election hustings in Galway on Saturday night, Varadkar said he wants to be inclusive.

“What I stand for above all is the view that the Government is there not to run peoples’ lives, but to help people to lead better lives.

“I particularly want to focus the work of the Government in the next couple of years on rewarding work, rewarding enterprise and ensuring that people can run their businesses well and their farms well and that they can keep more of the money that they earn.”

When asked if a divide exists between rural and urban Ireland in terms of recovery, Varadkar says that he doesn’t think it is as straightforward as Dublin is doing well and the rest of Ireland is doing poorly. The facts do not reflect that, he argues.

“I represent a Dublin constituency and there are a lot of problems in Dublin too. We’ve much more crime for a start. My entire constituency has one Garda station and pretty much every class has 28 or 30 kids in it. We need to recognise that there are problems in all parts of the country and rather than arguing with each other as to who has it worse we should try to work together as to how we can best provide solutions.”

Rural infrastructure

What the Dublin West TD thinks would really make a difference in rural Ireland is infrastructure.

“The local roads are in pretty bad nick. I’d like to bring back the Local Improvement Scheme and I’ve a dedicated budget for that, particularly now that Local Property Tax is in place.

“Everyone pays it, even if you’re not on a public road. Another thing as well is connecting, particularly the northwest, to a high-quality road network.

“There’s no way that those parts of the country can really fully participate in recovery if they’re not connected in terms of roads and broadband.”

Climate change

On climate change and growing food demand, he thinks it’s difficult to square ambitions in agriculture and in Food Wise 2025 with our climate change commitments.

Listen to "Leo Varadkar shares his thoughts on climate change" on Spreaker.

“But we do need to feed the world and there’s increased demand for the food that we produce. If we don’t produce it in Ireland, it will be produced somewhere else, which will therefore cause climate change in less sustainable countries. It will probably cause more climate change.

“I think we should stick to our targets for food production and the focus in terms of getting our emissions down should be from the other areas, in particular energy and transport.

“We can do that, we can do it with renewable energy. We need to get renewable energy going.”

Varadkar said price supports are needed, a REFIT tariff, which we only have at the moment for onshore wind.

“We don’t have it for offshore wind, don’t really have it for solar so I think we can do a lot more on energy to bring down our emissions.

“On transport, even things that other countries have done that we’re way behind on, like moving towards alternative fuels and electricity for our buses and to a certain extent our train system, where it’s viable.”

Off-farm income and the CAP

As Minister for Social Protection, he was responsible for allocating a further 500 places on the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) and reversing cuts to Farm Assist.

With many farmers dependent on off-farm income, Varadkar states both schemes have important roles but they can only go so far.

“I think the RSS is important on two levels – it gets really good work done in communities and really assists people to get off-farm income in parts of Ireland where there isn’t really off-farm income.

“We’ve totally reversed the cuts on Farm Assist – that makes a difference in terms of income supports for people.”

Furthermore, he thinks that the 2020 CAP reform may allow us to get a better deal for smaller farmers.


Brexit is accepted as one of the greatest threats to Irish agriculture since the formation of the State. However, Varadkar says he is an optimist and thinks it is going to be possible to secure a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Britain once it leaves the EU.

“If Brexit goes wrong it’s a disaster. In a worst-case scenario, we’re reverting to WTO rules which means major tariffs and major other trade barriers.

“If we can agree an FTA between Ireland and Britain, well between the EU and Britain, then things won’t change very much and that’s what we have to work towards.

“I think one thing we will need, and we can’t do this until we know what the new rules of trade are, is having some sort of enterprise adaption fund.

“Essentially if the rules of trade are negative for us, to have a fund in place that allows farms and businesses to adapt to what the new rules of trade are.”

Either Minister Coveney or Minister Varadkar will almost certainly be the next Taoiseach. The result of the Fine Gael leadership campaign will be known this Friday 2 June. It is then up to the Dáil to ratify the election of either man to be the next Taoiseach. With Fianna Fáil committing to abstain from the vote, it is likely Fine Gael will have enough support to rubberstamp the appointment.

Then comes the likely cabinet reshuffle.

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