Friday 24 November 2017

Fianna Fáil gets tough amid fears it will be outflanked on Budget

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Photo: Tony Gavin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin Photo: Tony Gavin

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan

Fianna Fáil has issued a series of fresh demands ahead of October's Budget as fears grow internally that the party is set to be outflanked by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the upcoming negotiations.

The main Opposition party last night accused Fine Gael of putting out skewed spending figures and claimed that Mr Varadkar may need to set up a new unit to monitor his own promises.

In a clear ramping up of tensions ahead of the Budget, Fianna Fáil also warned that issues such as water infrastructure, home help and hospital waiting lists must be prioritised.

Tensions between the two parties erupted this week amid a row over the old-age pension.

Senior Fianna Fáil figures were left incensed after Mr Varadkar appeared to steal a step on his opposite number, Micheál Martin, after he signalled for the first time his intention to hike the old-age pension.

But there is also disquiet internally within Fianna Fáil after Mr Martin - in stark contrast to Mr Varadkar - told the 'Sunday Independent' that he believes available resources should go towards other groups, such as carers and those on disabilities.

One senior party figure said local supporters were "incensed" by Mr Martin's comment, adding that TDs were inundated by calls from annoyed grassroots members.

"Fianna Fáil has traditionally been the party of the pensioners and we should be focused on increasing support among older voters ahead of the next election," the source said.

Last year, veteran TD Willie O'Dea was credited with securing a €5 hike in the old-age pension.

It's understood angry Fianna Fáil TDs contacted Mr Martin (inset) and his senior advisers on Sunday after he suggested he would not push to have the pension increased in the budget this time round.

But last night, Fianna Fáil moved to claw back ground on Fine Gael. The party's housing spokesman Barry Cowen spelled out a series of new demands ahead of the budget on October 11.

The party also committed to properly funding the country's water infrastructure, which has come under major spotlight as a result of the water shortages facing the people of Co Meath and Co Louth.

Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Cowen said he was shocked that Mr Varadkar last week committed to spending €80bn on infrastructure - and yet his own Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy could not say during a media interview how the Government will fund the water network.

"It's clear Eoghan Murphy doesn't know if he can fund water services beyond 2018," Mr Cowen said.

"Is he communicating on the issue with the Taoiseach? Fianna Fáil in government will commit to the necessary water infrastructure works."

The Offaly TD went on to say that rather than a strategic communications unit, which Mr Varadkar has set up, the Taoiseach should instead establish a "unit monitoring promises made".

He added that his party's focus was very much on issues like the lack of services for older people, home care packages, and bringing down hospital waiting lists.

"It's interesting that the Taoiseach is focusing on the setting up of a strategic communications unit when older people have less medical cards than in 2012," Mr Cowen said.

Irish Independent

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