Fianna Fáil leader accuses Fine Gael of "desparate" bid to make UK's departure centre stage
FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of calling the election to coincide with Brexit because he thought it would return him to power.
He insisted Brexit isn't coming up on the doors and accused Fine Gael of a "desperate" bid to make the issue centre stage in a campaign dominated by housing and health.
Mr Martin was also forced to deny his party is on the back-foot on Brexit because it's Mr Varadkar and his team that have contacts and experience in the European Union.
His remarks came as he was canvassing in Dublin South West with one of his local candidates Deirdre O'Donovan.
Mr Martin rejected a suggestion by Mr Varadkar that Brexit is being raised by voters.
He said: "When you think about this. He had planned this election and the date a way back. It's very clear now that it was all choreographed and he thought he would get re-elected on the wave of Brexit day."
Mr Martin added that Fine Gael "have been desperate since the beginning of the campaign to put Brexit centre stage... And it hasn't worked."
"They're giving it one last effort today, tomorrow, about Brexit again," Mr Martin said, a reference to a speech by Mr Varadkar and an early visit by Tánaiste Simon Coveney and other ministers to Dublin Port.
"The fact is the health crisis, the housing issue, are very dominant in people's minds."
Mr Martin said today's departure by Britain from the EU is is a sad day for the Europe and UK.
"I think Britain did contribute significantly to the European Union over the years and it's a weakening of the Union.
"I think it will damage the UK economy," he added.
"We all have to work in Europe with the United Kingdom to minimise the damage of Brexit and in particular to try and arrive at a trade agreement that will go as close as possible to the current arrangement we have and that we can achieve zero tariffs, zero quotas," Mr Martin said.
He brushed off a suggestion that Fianna Fáil was at a disadvantage to Fine Gael on Brexit due to the experience of Mr Varadkar's team in the first phase of talks.
Mr Martins said: "We have great experience in terms of dealing with the European Union down through the years.
"I was a former foreign minister, dealt with the Lisbon treaty and changes to that. We're members of the Alde group engage with Prime Ministers across Europe on the Brexit issue.."
He added that the European institutions "appreciate the role that Fianna Fáil played in terms of developing a national consensus on Brexit" and insisted "We've a strong diplomatic team".
Mr Martin claimed the issue has bee "over-played and politicised by Fine Gael - wrongly in my view...
"They've over-done it I think and people aren't going to be taken in by that."
Mr Martin says he believes he would work "very well" with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson but also said "I'm under no illusions".
The Fianna Fáil leader said he has "a long-standing commitment to strong British-Irish relations".
Minister Richard Bruton responded to Mr Martin’s claim about the timing of the election saying the Fianna Fáil leader had “refused the Taoiseach’s original offer in 2018 to set an election date.
“Then he refused to agree to a polling date in May 2020. Mr Bruton added: “The most important change in European politics for decades is occurring, now is not the time for petty squabbles.”