Wednesday 28 September 2016

Fine Gael accused of acting like North Korea by limiting questions allowed to be put to Taoiseach

Niall O’Connor and Cormac McQuinn

Published 04/02/2016 | 16:30

Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured this morning during a press conference at Fine Gael Media HQ
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured this morning during a press conference at Fine Gael Media HQ

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has said he didn't appear on Six One News like other party leaders because "I didn't know I was invited".

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Tánaiste Joan Burton of Labour, Fianna Fáil's Michéal Martin and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin all appeared on the broadcast yesterday following the calling of the election that morning.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar was interviewed for Fine Gael.

Mr Kenny was asked about his Six One no-show at a campaign event at a concrete factory in Co Westmeath. It was put to him that RTÉ has said it won't accept a substitute in future.

"I didn't know I was invited to it. Obviously I haven't access to all of the diaries here.

"I have a lot of interviews to do over the next period and I will participate in the debates that take place - why wouldn't I?

"So I'm sorry that RTE were upset about that. You'll see enough of me - maybe too much over the next couple of weeks believe me," Mr Kenny added.

He was speaking at Shay Murtagh Pre-Cast which employs almost 250 in Raharney, Co Westmeath.

The party has been accused of acting like the Government in North Korea by strictly limiting the questions allowed to be put to Taoiseach Enda Kenny at his first press conference of the General Election campaign.

Fianna Fáil described the move by senior Fine Gael figures as a “sad state of affairs”.

The party’s Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath also accused Mr Kenny of “ducking and diving” and of sending Health Minister Leo Varadkar out to do his “dirty work” on the ‘Six One’ News.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the Taoiseach of the day conducts his first press conference with a limit of two questions to be put from the floor,” Mr McGrath said.

“This isn’t North Korea, this is a democratic State and you as members of the media are entitled to put as many questions as you want as far as I'm concerned to all of the political leaders going before the country in this election.

“And for the Taoiseach also to skip the first real interview on the ‘Six One’ last night, they sent Leo Varadkar out to do his dirty work, is not the way to go and it is not a sustainable basis for them to conduct a three week campaign.”

Mr McGrath says Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s numbers published in the party’s economic plan are “back of the envelope stuff” and “simply don’t add up”.

He said that the figures given by the Department of Finance and the Fiscal Advisory Council in terms of available money are vastly different.

But the Cork South Central TD said all of the different figures being thrown out in relation to the so-called ‘fiscal space’ are based on certain economic assumptions.

“As a country, we are now entering in a vital election campaign with a €5.4bn difference between the Fiscal Advisory Council’s estimate of fiscal space available to the next Government and the Department of Finance’s estimate,” Mr McGrath told reporters.

“This government has brought the whole issue of broken promises to a new level,” he added.

Mr McGrath said that if the economic projections end up being wrong, Fianna Fáil will prioritise vital public services. Fianna Fáil intends to achieve a 60:40 split in terms of spending and tax cuts.

Mr McGrath has said on the basis that the total fiscal space is of the order of €12bn, Fianna Fáil will promise a €9.5bn package and a remaining €2.5bn being used to pay off the country’s debt.

Separately, Fianna Fáil will set up a separate ‘rainy day fund’ that can only be accessed in the event of an economic downturn.

Mr McGrath described Fine Gael’s proposed ‘rainy day fund’ is a “slush fund”.

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