Kate O’Connell: Varadkar’s decision to stand down was ‘end of dark enough chapter in my life’

Outgoing Taoiseach says he ‘only wishes’ former Fine Gael TD ‘the very best in her life and political career’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed warm wishes for former Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell who described his decision to stand down as the “end of a dark enough chapter in my life”.

Mr Varadkar, attending his final Fine Gael ardfheis as Taoiseach, said: “I only wish Kate O’Connell the very best in her life and her political career.”

Mr Varadkar and the former TD had a difficult relationship that became a public chasm after Ms O’Connell described a group of the then party leader’s close supporters as “choirboys”.

Elected to the Dáil on her first attempt in 2016, Ms O’Connell advocated for the National Children’s Hospital and campaigned to remove the ban on abortion. She lost her seat in the 2020 election and did not go for selection for the byelection following the resignation of former minister Eoghan Murphy.

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Attending her first ardfheis for a number of years, Ms O’Connell said she was there to support Simon Harris and that “I think he’s going to be a great leader”. She believed the party “has gone through a difficult enough period, perhaps a period of inertia. Ireland has gone through a difficult time and I think Simon Harris is the change Ireland needs”.

Asked what her reaction was when she heard Mr Varadkar was planning to stand down, she said she was “surprised, and I was shocked”. She said that “for me personally I felt it was the end of a dark enough chapter in my life and the start of perhaps something new”.

She said she would support local and European election candidates, and “I just want to be available to Simon Harris as a Fine Gael person, to help him rebuild the party and help him regain the seats that we lost in 2020”.

Ms O’Connell signalled, however, that she would be interested in running again for the party, saying of Mr Harris’s leadership that “it does open an avenue for me”.

Cllr James Geoghegan, who unsuccessfully ran in the byelection to succeed Mr Murphy in 2021, has been selected to contest the general election in Dublin Bay South, where Fine Gael currently has no TD.

Asked for his response to Ms O’Connell’s view that his departure represented “the end of a dark enough chapter” in her life, Mr Varadkar said: “I only wish Kate O’Connell the very best in her life and her political career.”

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe defended Mr Varadkar’s leadership and said that Fine Gael’s history under the Taoiseach “will be a chapter in which we’ll be able to make a case for the work of Leo leading our country through a pandemic, leading our country through Brexit, leading our country through the economic effects of a war and a surge in migration”.

Mr Donohoe said that he saw Mr Varadkar’s leadership as “a really bright phase in Fine Gael and a period in which Leo played a leadership role that befits the office of the Taoiseach in responding to some of the greatest challenges Ireland has ever faced”.

When asked if he would welcome Ms O’Connell’s return and her possible run in the general election, he said “I’m not going to comment on who could be candidates of Fine Gael in the future”.

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