Varadkar attack on 'ridiculous' FF deals another blow to talks
Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny's bid to be re-elected Taoiseach next week suffered a setback after Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil clashed over the legislation underpinning the suspension of water charges.
Fianna Fáil figures declined to meet Fine Gael last night as the two parties differed over the potential length of the suspension.
Fine Gael initially drafted a bill that provided for a suspension of up to nine months, during which it is expected the new Independent Commission will sit.
But Fianna Fáil insisted the legislation must allow for the "ongoing suspension" of water charges in a move senior figures say is aimed at preventing their return.
Fianna Fáil also objected strongly to the bill presented by Fine Gael because it made no provision for the Dáil to be given the power to decide on the future of bills.
"The bill was completely flawed and did not reflect what we agreed," said one senior Fianna Fáil source.
Both parties were wrangling over the precise details last night and decided not to meet for the second consecutive day.
There also remains differences between the two parties in areas such as rent supplement, mortgages and rural affairs.
As drafts of the final agreement were being exchanged last night, sources in both parties expressed confidence a deal would be reached.
Independent TDs expressed their frustration at the slow nature of the talks as it now appears the impasse will last for at least another week.
"We cannot meet these two parties until we see what they agreed. People are getting fed up," said Independent TD for Kerry Michael Healy Rae.
However, officials from Enda Kenny's department were in contact with some independents yesterday to invite them to a meeting on the issue of broadband.
Meanwhile, the talks between the two parties was overshadowed by a row involving Acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar heightened tensions with Fianna Fáil after he described the suspension of charges as the "wrong thing to do".
"The fact they went to the wire and threatened an election and threatened not to facilitate a new government on water, I think was ridiculous," Mr Varadkar told Keelin Shanley on RTÉ radio.
"It's the wrong thing to do, it's not in the public interest to do this," Mr Varadkar said.
"We actually need a dedicated stream of income… it's very disappointing to me that Fianna Fáil wants us to go backwards to water."
But Mr Varadkar's decision to describe the suspension of water charges as wrong infuriated Fianna Fáil, who accused him of making the remarks in order to impress party members and further his own leadership ambitions.
The claim was rejected outright by a senior Fine Gael source who said Mr Varadkar was merely reflecting the views expressed by members.
In a surprise move, Fianna Fáil negotiator Michael McGrath held a press conference, during which he described Mr Varadkar's intervention as "self-serving and unhelpful".
Mr McGrath also suggested Mr Varadkar was furthering his own leadership ambitions, saying "it's clear there is an on-going succession issue in Fine Gael."
"We don't know if it will be a weeks, months, year or two but that process is underway," the Cork South Central TD said.
"You do have to question why those hard-line comments are made at this time when we are hopefully close to an overall agreement.
"He essentially questioned the integrity of our party and the reason why are raising issues, saying 'it's all politics'. It's not all politics."
But Mr McGrath insisted the talks would not be derailed as a result of Mr Varadkar's intervention.
"We're not going to throw the toys out of the pram on this."
Afterwards on the 'Six One' news, Mr Varadkar said he believed Mr McGrath had become personal and that he was not going to do so also. While the Dáil authorities put TDs on alert for a vote for Taoiseach next week, it is now not likely to take place until the week after.