Monday 21 May 2018

Countdown to election? Taoiseach tells his TDs to ramp up attacks on Fianna Fáil

  • Taoiseach says promises being made by Opposition party need to “called out”
  • Marks a new low in relations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil
Minister Leo Varadkar arriving at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Minister Leo Varadkar arriving at Trinity College Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Kevin Doyle Group Political Editor

FINE Gael TDs have been told to ramp up attacks on Fianna Fáil even though such a move is likely to move the country closer to a general election.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told a private party meeting last night that promises being made by Opposition party need to “called out”.

It marks a new low in relations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil amid speculation as to whether the two parties can renegotiate the ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement later this year.

Sources say Mr Varadkar warned that Fianna Fáil are “promising everything to everyone in the county at present”.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Taoiseach said he has kept a list of all Fianna Fáil's demands, saying education requests in the past fortnight alone would have cost €250m. He said their demands for a package to help farmers affected by the fodder crisis would have cost €200m.

TDs and senators were told that Micheál Martin would ultimately either renege on such promises or “actually bankrupt the country again”.

Relations between the two largest parties in the Dáil have been deteriorating for some weeks.

Fine Gael are particularly annoyed at Mr Martin for criticising the Government’s approach to the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

A speech he made at a 1916 Commemoration event in Arbour Hill last weekend “was the final straw” for some TDs.

In it, Mr Martin lashed out at Fine Gael for failing to fix the housing and health crises.

And he claimed there was “a growing intolerance within elements of government to idea that anyone has the right to challenge them or to question their strategy”.

The Fianna Fáil leader said Mr Varadkar’s team “have over-spun and under-delivered in nearly every policy”.

Fine Gael TDs have now been given the green light to stage a political fightback.

The party have generally been cautious about going too hard on Fianna Fáil as they need the main Opposition party to facilitate the passage of legislation through the Dáil.

But the behind closed doors meeting reached a general consensus that Fianna Fáil are trying to claim credit for the good things happening in government and blame Fine Gael for all the bad things.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty were briefing the room on demands from Fianna Fáil for a pension scheme to be introduced for Community Employment supervisors and assistant supervisors when the Taoiseach launched a blistering attack on the party.

One source present said the Taoiseach message was the Fianna Fáil has “changed tact” and is “reverting to old style opposition politics”.

Afterwards a number of TDs privately discussed whether the country is moving towards an election faster than previously believed.

Mr Martin has committed to allowing a third Budget through the Dáil later this year but both sides are anticipating rows over how to use in the region of €3bn.

Earlier in the Dáil Mr Varadkar and Martin clashed over the Government’s priorities in education.

In response to questions from Fianna Fáil on school facilities, the Taoiseach said he hears their education spokesman “demanding more spending on new school buildings one day, the next day demanding full pay restoration or full pay equality for young teachers and the following day demanding an increase in capitation”.

He added: “I am keeping a record of all the promises his spokespersons are making as the weeks go by. Hundreds of millions in extra spending are being promised every week for every interest group and it is all being promised now.”

Mr Martin said: “We put our priorities into the confidence and supply agreement. The reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio would not have occurred if it had not been provided for in the confidence and supply agreement. Fine Gael resisted the reduction, just as it resisted the National Treatment Purchase Fund.”

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