Thursday 19 April 2018

‘I’d appreciate if you'd grant me the same time that you grant Gov't ministers’ - Micheal Martin in angry spat with News at One host

Micheal Martin at the launch of the Fianna Fail policy on rural Ireland
Micheal Martin at the launch of the Fianna Fail policy on rural Ireland

Garreth Murphy, Geraldine Gittens and Caroline Crawford

Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin was involved in an angry spat with RTE News at One presenter Aine Lawlor today as he responded to questions about his party’s plans in the next Dail.

The Fianna Fail leader was responding to criticism levelled at him by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar on Morning Ireland where he was likened to a character in Arnold  Schwarzenegger movie, Total Recall.

In a testy interview, Mr Martin demanded that he be given “time and space to answer his questions”.

When asked if he would “play his part in putting together a Government after February 26,” Mr Martin said: “Aine, can I just make a point to you? I listened to Leo Varadkar’s interview on Morning Ireland today and he didn’t have this aggressive intervening and interrupting I do every time I try to put a point across.

“I would appreciate it if I was allowed the same space that Government ministers are allowed on RTE programmes.

A combative Mr Martin said that he felt Mr Varadkar’s attacks had veered into personal territory and were “sad”.

“He’s wrong. I think it’s a sad reflection on Leo Varadkar personally and an illustration of the panic and disarray in Government ranks that Leo has to go back to the fact that I was appointed to Health 16 years ago and use that as a launch pad for an attack to win an election.”

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has launched a stinging attack on former health minister Micheál Martin, likening him to a character in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall.

Mr Varadkar was speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland today to respond to claims Mr Martin made in Monday night’s leader’s debate on RTE’s Claire Byrne Live.

He said the Fianna Fail leader is like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in the film who “manages to have alternative memories planted in his brain”.

“It seems that’s where we are with Micheál Martin who has created a whole fairytale about his period in health, and not dissimilar, his period in Foreign Affairs when he was responsible, or at least partially responsible for the agreement with the Troika and the European Commission that he seems also to have forgotten about.”

Mr Varadkar said he had tried as Health Minister “to be upfront about the situation”.

“Some of those targets weren’t met, we came very close… I totally accept that when it comes to health we didn’t deliver on our promises.”

But he said: “Micheal Martin has created a totally bogus, alternative, fairytale land which he lives in and that’s his record on health which I’ve totally exposed now as being dishonest and I could say something very similar about enterprise during the period when he was enterprise minister when Irish competitiveness fell from fifth place in the world to 29th and that was when the real economy was undermined before the property crash.”

In a statement, Fianna Fáil said Mr Varadkar’s “pathetic, personal attack on Mr Micheál Martin is a sign of desperation and a move to negative campaigning. Losing the argument of the future of the country, this is the best that Fine Gael can come up with.”

The party said it won’t be facilitating Fine Gael or Mr Varadkar’s attacks in any way. The statement, provided to Morning Ireland, said Fianna Fáil has offered to facilitate a one-to-one debate between Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin but the Taoiseach has refused.

In Monday night’s leader’s debate, Mr Martin spoke about his record as health minister between 2000 and 2004, and that in 2004 more patients were being treated successfully than when the present Government came to power.

But Mr Varadkar said: “Micheál Martin is a very good debater but he’s an even better deceiver, and he told quite a few untruths in the debate on Monday night.”

“I’m not usually somebody who goes personal [but] he actually encouraged such a challenge and what he said relates to health.”

“He said in 2004 by any metric the health service was treating more patients more successfully than before this Government came to power. By any metric I challenge anyone to go through it.”

“So I have gone through it and I got the figures as to where we were in 2004 versus 2014. Since then outpatient appointments are up by 30pc, that’s the number of people who actually get to see the doctor, up from 2.45 million to 3.2m. Medical cards are up from 28pc of the population coverage to 38pc, that doesn’t include doctor visit cards, it’s even higher if you add that. The number of ambulance calls that are responded to has gone up by 9.3pc and the number of surgical day cases done is up to 76pc and the number of patients treated in our hospital every year is up by more than 50pc, and that’s all in health at a glance.”

“Really what you have is an extraordinary statement made in my view made in two debates that is entirely untrue.”

Micheál Martin hit back at the Health Minister, describing his criticisms of the Fianna Fáil leader in health and enterprise as “a sad reflection on Leo”.

“It is also an illustration or the panic and disarray within Government circles that they have to resort to personal attacks on the record of someone who was appointed as a Minister of Health 16 years ago. We’re actually asking the Irish people to vote on the next Government from 2016 to 2021.

“Leo Varadkar is going back to 2000 to 2004,” he said, adding that he rejected his assertions.

“I would respectfully say to Leo to have a reflection on his own performance over the last two years as Minister for Health,” he said.

He pointed to the escalation of waiting lists and reports into hygiene concerns in the country’s maternity units.

“He has adopted the strategy of being a detached commentator on crisis after crisis in health and he has presided over inadequate and insufficient budgets for hospital. It would be far better for him to reflect on his time in health than trying to attack somebody who made significant gains in a whole range of fronts in our health service between 2000 and 2004.

“Many of which including the smoking ban live on to the present day,” he added.

Mr Martin also insisted his party would not prop up Fine Gael in government.

“The Irish people have made it clear to me on my travels around the country, they do not want me to prop up Enda Kenny as the next Taoiseach or indeed a Fine Gael government so that’s my answer to that,” he said.

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