Friday 19 January 2018

‘Enda doesn’t need to look over his shoulder’ - Leo Varadkar says Fine Gael leader has ‘open cheque’ from parliamentary party

Health minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Health minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar said water charges can not legally be abolished Credit: Caroline Quinn

David Kearns

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is focused on forming the next coalition, says Health Minister Leo Varadkar who claims the embattled leader has the full support of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

Doubts about Mr Kenny’s leadership have been raised following the party's disastrous General Election campaign.

Several Fine Gael TDs are believed to have suggested that Mr Kenny step aside as party leader ahead of the first meeting of the 32rd Dáil next week.

Read More: Fine Gael ministers hold late-night talks about Kenny's leadership

“The election was a defeat but not a rout,” conceded Health Minister Leo Varadkar on RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke.

“[But] we’ve been clear about this... Enda Kenny has the full support of the Fine Gael parliamentary party. He needs to know that, and he does.

“We had a parliamentary party meeting about this [last night] were everyone spoke… and we’re clear as a party that Enda Kenny is our candidate for Taoiseach and [that] we fully support his efforts to put together a coalition.

He added: “In order to do that, he needs to know he doesn’t need to be looking over his shoulder, and that he doesn’t need to be concerned."

Read More: Fine Gael TDs have to grin and bear it while Fianna Fáil just enjoy the party

Asked by host Sean O’Rourke if this meant Enda Kenny had an “open cheque” when it came to forming the next Government, Mr Varadkar replied: “He has the backing of the Fine Gael parliamentary party.

“What we’re willing to do is form a Government with like-minded parties that are interested in stability… we can’t have a Government that will collapse in three months.”

Question if this meant going into Government with election rivals Fianna Fáil, Mr Varadkar said “it doesn’t have to be".

"If you add up the numbers it could be Labour, Social Democrats, and Independents.

“It would have to be a Government that reflects Fine Gael’s politics and beliefs… we’ve no interest in clinging to power."

Read More: Timeline: How the water charges dripped away

Adding about the possibility of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition: “It would be extremely difficult as we don’t trust each other as parties.

“[Already] the seem to think their god given right to govern has been restored to them.”

Read More: Fine Gael warns Kenny not to seek return to power 'at any cost'

Mr Varadkar claimed it was “unlikely” that Fianna Fáil’s Michael Martin would become Taoiseach, saying: “I’d be surprised if smaller parties and Independents rallied to [his] banner.”

“I could turn out to be wrong but I highly doubt it.”

He continued, taking swipe at those parties who promised to abolish water charges.

Read More: Water charges not a 'red line issue', Fianna Fáil leader Michéal Martin tells TDs

“[The] water charges situation is very clear, there is an EU directive on water and at the heart of that directive is the principle that the user pays and the polluter pays.

"Parties who went into the election claiming they could abolish water charges were not telling the truth.”

Addressing criticism from former Justice Minister Alan Shatter who said that Mr Varadkar was, in part, to blame from Fine Gael’s poor communications over the election campaign – saying “Leo, God help us” on RTÉ radio, Mr Varadkar sighed: “Alan Shatter - charming as always”.

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