Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach challenged over housing and childcare on day one of election campaign

Leo Varadkar was speaking to voters in Co Cavan.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launching the Fine Gael general election campaign (Liam McBurney/PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar launching the Fine Gael general election campaign (Liam McBurney/PA)

By Aine McMahon PA

Housing, childcare and roads were on voters’ minds as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar headed to Co Cavan for his first canvassing session of the General Election campaign.

While his Fine Gael party is keen to put its handling of Brexit at the heart of its campaign to hold on to power, the issue did not come up with voters he met on Wednesday in Virginia, which is set in a border region.

It was bread and butter issues such as housing and childcare that voters wanted to discuss, rather than Fine Gael’s handling of Brexit negotiations.

Mr Varadkar arrived in the rain-soaked town and walked Main Street with two new candidates, TP O’Reilly and Sandra McIntyre, together with a sizeable group of young canvassers.

Mr O’Reilly took charge, leading the Taoiseach on a whistle-stop tour of the town, including a butchers, a pharmacy, clothes shops and bars.

A number of schoolchildren stopped Mr Varadkar for a selfie, while he engaged them in conversation in Gaelic.

While Mr Varadkar is not as adept at the art of the walkabout and glad-handing as his predecessor Enda Kenny, he attracted a mainly warm reception and drew traffic to a standstill as he passed through the town.

A young mother-of-two, carrying her baby, approached him and asked what he was going to do about the high cost of childcare.

“I have two kids under three and 70% of my wage goes on childcare,” she said.

“Please, I’m just requesting and asking you – what are you going to do for young educated women like myself who are being put out of the workforce?”

Mr Varadkar made positive noises about a national childcare plan and assured her he wanted to see more young parents being able to stay in work.

A barman at the Riverfront Hotel asked what the Taoiseach was going to do about minimum unit pricing, saying the cost of cheap supermarket alcohol and the high cost of insurance was hitting the pub trade.

“People can go across the road to the shop and buy a heap of cans for 10 euro – how are we meant to survive?” he asked.

Mr Varadkar said the days of shops selling cheap alcohol would come to an end but that he would have to vote for Fine Gael.

There was plenty of support from constituents looking for a guarantee that a bypass would be built for the busy commuter town, which they said had become choked with traffic.

“You’ll want to leave now to beat that traffic or you’ll miss your big meeting later,” quipped one local, as Mr Varadkar departed in his ministerial car to Dublin where he is due to meet the new President of the EU Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen on Wednesday evening.

With a wave and a round of applause from supporters, day one of the campaign was complete.

PA

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