Tuesday 12 December 2017

Varadkar clashes with Healy-Rae as talks on coalition become heated

Health Minister Leo Varadkar came under attack over his management of services for mentally health facilities during marathon talks at government buildings
Health Minister Leo Varadkar came under attack over his management of services for mentally health facilities during marathon talks at government buildings

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

Crucial talks aimed at forming the next government became heated after Fine Gael ministers clashed with Independent TDs over the state of mental services.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar came under attack over his management of services for mentally health facilities during marathon talks at government buildings.

During tense exchanges Mr Varadkar was accused of failing to pay proper attention to the talks.

He was angrily confronted by Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae, who claimed the minister was showing a complete lack of engagement with the issues being discussed.

However, Mr Varadkar hit back and accused Mr Healy-Rae of taking phone calls at the table. "Healy-Rae accused him of not listening and Leo pointed out to him that he had spent the day taking phone calls at the table," a source said.

The strained relations at the talks were also illustrated by an exchange between Mr Varadkar and Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath.

Mr McGrath said HSE managers have become completely unaccountable and told Mr Varadkar he must "take back control" of the health service.

Acting Taoiseach Kenny's mental health proposals were "poorly received" at the meeting but Fine Gael sources stressed these were just discussion papers and were subject to change. Sources at the meeting, which lasted for over eight hours and was attended by Mr Kenny, said the parties are "far from forming a Government".

It was agreed yesterday to appoint DCU Professor for Politics Kevin Rafter as special rapporteur.

The slow progress prompted Mr Kenny to invite the Independents back to further talks at 8am this morning - prior to their meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

Mr Kenny indicated at the meeting that he will meet Mr Martin - but only after negotiations with Independents and smaller parties conclude.

But in a blow to Mr Kenny, the Green Party is poised to drop out of the talks.

Party leader Eamon Ryan indicated that he is prepared to support a minority government but not be involved in government formation.

Meanwhile, following a lengthy discussion on housing yesterday, Fine Gael made a series of proposals in the areas of rural affairs and mental health.

The party pledged to slash taxes for rural publicans and to ensure there is high-speed broadband in every pub.

"We will support pubs to diversify their range of services and products. As part of this we will endeavour to deliver access to high quality, high-speed broadband to every pub in the country by 2020," the plan states.

Mr Kenny also pledged not to close any small schools in rural communities without the permission of parents.

In Fine Gael's 'discussion paper on jobs and rural development', there is a commitment to bring high-speed broadband to every home and business within five years. There are also pledges to improve the rural bus network, provide more grants for regional arts and culture centres and increase spending on mental health.

The document also promises an extra €500m in State investment to accelerate export led jobs growth in rural communities. This will include €300m in capital funding designated to Enterprise Ireland which will be used to support start-ups and small business.

An additional €200m will be given to Industry Development Authority (IDA).

Kenny's offer to Independents

  • Cabinet Minister and Department for Rural Affairs
  • High-speed broadband in every home and business in the country by 2020
  • Improved mobile phone infrastructure and coverage
  • €500m investment to boost job growth in regional towns
  • No closure of small schools
  • State funding for the renewal of rural towns and villages
  • €100m investment in the Wild Atlantic Way and greenways
  • €10m funding for regional airports
  • Reinforce the role of the Western Development Commission (WDC) to help increase employment in rural communities
  • Double the number of apprenticeships and traineeships places in five years
  • Implement electronic payment system in post offices
  • Enhance the role of credit unions, including lifting lending restrictions for home buyers
  • Tax cuts for publicans and broadband in every pub
  • Improved rural bus network
  • Establish regional technological universities
  • Extend free mental health services for young people
  • Counselling services for families on low incomes
  • Reduce waiting times for mental health services
  • More State funding for people transitioning from HSE supported accommodation

Irish Independent

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