Saturday 21 September 2019

'Comments on children were not an attack on Taoiseach,' says McDonald

Not interested in personal jibes: Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tom Burke
Not interested in personal jibes: Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Mary Lou McDonald has rejected any suggestion that she implied Taoiseach Leo Varadkar can't understand childcare issues because he is not a father.

She insisted "that is not my view" and said she had "absolutely no interest whatsoever in personalised jibes" after a week that saw repeated Dáil clashes between the Sinn Féin deputy leader and the Taoiseach.

Ms McDonald came under heavy criticism from a series of Fine Gael figures after remarks she made in the Dáil during Leaders' Questions when she was filling in for Gerry Adams.

She had challenged Mr Varadkar on the Government's record on childcare, criticised the Government's plans to cut taxes, and asked if he would implement a Sinn Féin proposal to increase the childcare subsidy in the Budget.

Mr Varadkar responded by telling Ms McDonald that "Sinn Féin is the only party in this House that has never done anything for children".

He added: "When deputy McDonald says she has made a choice and that she stands with young families, that is totally bogus."

Ms McDonald responded saying: "I am actually raising two young children. While I regard that as something of a personal endeavour, it also puts me, like so many others, in a position to understand that all of the cant and empty rhetoric about balancing the books is not worth a fig to struggling families.

"To couples at work or individuals on their own who have to provide care for their children, lofty words about balancing the books from An Taoiseach in that dismissive way are of no use."


Fine Gael ministers defended Mr Varadkar over the weekend, with Arts Minister Heather Humphreys saying he is "very much aware" of the issues faced by families as Junior Minister Helen McEntee branded Ms McDonald's comments "ridiculous".

Fine Gael Senator Neale Richmond compared Ms McDonald's comments with those made by British MP Andrea Leadsom about UK Prime Minister Theresa May - who doesn't have children.

During last year's leadership contest in the Conservative Party, Ms Leadsom suggested she was better placed to be leader as having children meant she had a "real stake in the future of our country".

Ms McDonald last night rejected the comparison with Ms Leadsom's comments.

"I didn't make those comments. I wouldn't make those comments. That is not my view as regards anybody," she said.

She said the only person she alluded to in her Dáil remarks was herself.

"I did it in a context where I was directly challenged around doing nothing for children... I simply pointed out that as it happens I am parenting two children. That's it.

"I'm actually very careful always not to make commentary on people's personal lives. It's none of my business.

"But I am allowed to say things about my own experiences and my own life. That was it, nothing more than that."

She confirmed that Sinn Féin leader Mr Adams would be back in the Dáil this week to pose questions to Mr Varadkar.

She said: "I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in personalised jibes. I have every interest in representing people... and I have every interest in securing answers to matters that I think are serious from members of Government including An Taoiseach."

Irish Independent

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