Agriculture and Trump dominate second Fine Gael leadership debate

The issue of agriculture looks set to dominate the discussion

The second Fine Gael leadership debate has taken place at Carlow IT.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Minister for Housing Simon Coveney went head-to-head in front of a large audience of party members, before the candidates head to Ballinasloe in Co Galway this weekend.

The Coveney camp had hinted that they were working on converting TDs, Senators and MEPs who've already pledged their vote to Leo Varadkar.

At the hustings, Coveney argued that if elected he will be a leader for rural Ireland and beyond.

Acknowledging that he is the underdog in the leadership contest, he said despite the challenge ahead of him, he is "in it to win it".

He added that they need to rebuild the party's name in certain parts of the country, believing that certain parties have left politics splintered.

Meanwhile, Varadkar said the party's democracy "shouldn't begin and end" with the leadership vote next week, and that he will endeavor to be "a Taoiseach for Ireland".

Agriculture

On the issue of agriculture, Varadkar said Ireland needs to seek new markets for our food exports proposing the country doubles its international presence.

Coveney criticised the decision to close the county's sugar factory in 2005, and has hopes to rebuild the country['s sugar industry.

He continued, calling himself the farming industry "the heart beat of rural Ireland".

The Eighth Amendment

If elected, Coveney said he will allow a free vote within the party on the issue of the recommendations concerning the Eighth Amendment and abortion legislation, despite not agreeing with abortion on demand.

Varadkar shared his sentiments, but did call the Eighth Amendment "restrictive". 

Agriculture is likely to feature as a talking point at tonight's hustings, which could play to Simon Coveney's hands as the former holder of that brief in government.

Overseas aid

Varadkar said he wants to increase overseas aid to committed 0.7% of GDP but won't commit to a date on achieving it.

Coveney was also supportive but said increasing it too quickly could lead to a kick back if money wasn't being spent on important domestic issues.

Potential coalitions

Varadkar said if elected, he will not entertain the idea of entering into a coalition government with Sinn Féin.

He said Sinn Féin supporters look set to lose the most if their economic policies were to be implemented.

On working with other parties, Vardkar concluded that it is appropriate to be talking about other government partners while the party is currently in government with Independents.

Similarly, Coveney said Sinn Féin and Fine Gael were "not compatible" and that their political approach is "fundamentally dishonest".

However, he did reference the Green Party and Social Democrats as people they could work with as government partners.

Trump

Coveney said Ireland needs to use the large influence Ireland has in the US, and that the country has a responsibility to "maintain a relationship with that office".

Varadkar said: "He is their president and we have to deal with him", adding that relations between Ireland and the US will outlast any president.

First debate

Last night saw the first debate take place, where it was largely agreed that Coveney came out on top.

Coveney was boosted as well this morning by an Irish Times survey showing that he's more popular with ordinary voters.

This story is developing...