Sunday 23 July 2017

Varadkar rejects claim he's using pension issue to push leader bid

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar says it would be ‘arrogant’ to offer Enda Kenny a Brexit role after he steps down Picture: Frank McGrath
Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar says it would be ‘arrogant’ to offer Enda Kenny a Brexit role after he steps down Picture: Frank McGrath
John Downing

John Downing

Fine Gael leadership contender Leo Varadkar has brushed aside claims by Fianna Fáil that he is "using" promises of pension reform to push his own party leadership campaign.

But Mr Varadkar also said the change of Fine Gael leadership should not disrupt the agreement with Fianna Fáil to underpin the minority Coalition.

He again reiterated that it was up to Taoiseach Enda Kenny to decide his own time-frame for stepping down and said it would be "arrogant" to offer Mr Kenny a special Brexit role after his resignation.

Willie O'Dea, the Fianna Fáil welfare spokesman, said he was tired of listening to promises of pension reform when the so-called "pensions timebomb" continued to tick.

"For five years the social protection minister, Joan Burton, promised action. Now her successor, Leo Varadkar, is doing the same - and it suits him as part of his campaign to lead Fine Gael," Mr O'Dea said.

The Limerick TD said up to 60pc of people in the private sector had no pension provision, while up to 75pc of pensioners at present were solely dependent on the State's Old Age Pension.

"In fact, the whole pensions situation is a ticking timebomb and if provision is not made for future funding, there will be very serious consequences very soon," he added.

Successive governments have grappled with the issue of pensions reform and the upcoming difficulties in providing for public sector and State pensions.

One of the mooted changes is so-called "soft mandatory" pensions for all workers, which would presume each was paying into a pension plan unless they specifically chose to opt out of it.

The Social Protection Minister yesterday insisted that work on pension reform was now well advanced and he totally rejected Mr O'Dea's criticisms.

Record

"Willie O'Dea is in no position to make such accusations. He has been a social protection spokesman for six years while his party, Fianna Fáil, held the ministry for the previous 14 years. During all that time, it failed to produce a plan on pension reform," Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent.

"Contrast that record with this Government's work on a 'Road Map for Pension Reform', which is currently being finalised and will be published within the next couple of months."

Mr Varadkar refused to be drawn on whether Mr Kenny will be offered an advisory role on Brexit when he stands down as Taoiseach. After several months of delay, there is now intense speculation that Mr Kenny will announce his retirement within the coming fortnight.

Mr Kenny said before the last election that he would not lead the party into the next general election. In late February, he promised to make his intentions clear after his return from the St Patrick's Day visit to the USA.

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' programme he would not be so "presumptuous or arrogant" to offer anybody a job in the future, let alone the Taoiseach.

He said Mr Kenny was the Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael and would continue in those posts until he had decided otherwise.

"Whenever he will make the decision, he will make it, and that is up to him," Mr Varadkar said, adding there was no vacancy at the moment.

Mr Varadkar also said he could not see how a change of Taoiseach would make any difference to the minority Government.

"We have a confidence-and- supply agreement that was negotiated between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael," he said.

Both Mr Varadkar and his expected rival, Housing Minister Simon Coveney, are canvassing hard for the upcoming contest.

Irish Independent

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