Saturday 20 October 2018

'Calamity Coughlan' in war of words over Palin remark

DANIEL McCONNELL

A war of words has erupted between Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Fine Gael front bencher Leo Varadkar, after he labelled her the Irish Sarah Palin and claimed she is "calamity prone".

In what has been a tough week for the Government, and her personally, the Tanaiste dismissed the rookie Dublin TD's comments at a dinner in which she criticised chronic waste in the public sector.

The row began after Mr Varadkar's appearance on the panel of last Monday's Questions and Answers during which a question about the US election was asked. During the debate, Mr Varadkar likened the Tanaiste to the calamity-ridden Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin.

He said: "Actually she (Sarah Palin) reminds me of Mary Coughlan, which is why I'm terrified Brian Cowen may become incapable for some reason."

Immediately, the show's moderator John Bowman said that was off the point and that Mary Coughlan was "well able to speak for herself".

To this, Mr Varadkar responded quickly with "just about", which was not clearly picked up by his microphone. This caused Mr Bowman to describe Mr Varadkar's comments as "unfair".

In the wake of his appearance on the show and speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Varadkar said Ms Coughlan is calamity prone and that she has been effectively benched by the Government in recent weeks after several public gaffes.

He said: "It's quite clear she has become more prone to mistakes and my comments on the show merely reflected the similarities between the Tanaiste and Sarah Palin."

In response to Mr Varadkar's comments, the Tanaiste said she "unfortunately hadn't had the pleasure of seeing him on the programme".

Mr Varadkar, 29, has been a vocal member of the Fine Gael front bench since arriving in the Dail last year. However, sources close to the Tanaiste who did see the show made it known that she was less than impressed.

Ms Coughlan was speaking at a Dublin Chamber of Commerce dinner where she told assembled business leaders that serious problems exist in terms of efficiency. She said: "Very real problems do exist. There is a need for more flexibility in the delivery of services, a need for much greater efficiency and better value for money. There is a need for further modernisation of systems and working practices.

"I, together with my all of my colleagues in Government, will not be found wanting should difficult decisions on reform be required over the coming months.

"My view on such reform is clear -- we need to put the public at the centre of our public services."

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