Monday 16 December 2019

I'm a big boy, I don't mind being slapped down, says Varadkar

Minister vows to keep on speaking his mind despite a week of gaffes and embarrassment

John Downing

John Downing

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has insisted he will continue to speak on health issues - despite being told by the Taoiseach not to publicly discuss government Budget deliberations.

Mr Varadkar yesterday conceded he had been wrong to say Budget tax cuts could be as little as €5 to €10 per week and should not happen at the expense of health service cutbacks. He also made light of the Taoiseach's subsequent public rebuke.

"I don't mind being slapped down and scolded. I'm a big boy and I'm willing to take a degree of criticism from time to time," Mr Varadkar said at the opening of Fine Gael party's two-day 'think-in' on Fota Island, near Cork.

But he also stressed the need to differentiate between Budget details and overall health services.

"This is not about me, it's not about my ego, it's not about my dignity, it's about frontline staff, it's about patients, and it's about our health services which affect all of us," he added.

Mr Varadkar also said he respected the Taoiseach's overall authority. "I have tremendous respect for the Taoiseach, I am here entirely at his discretion. I absolutely take leadership from him and there's no doubt about that," he concluded.

The Taoiseach and some of his senior ministers, including Finance Minister Michael Noonan, tried to move on from the row.

But Mr Kenny also effectively confirmed that the Health Minister had apologised for mentioning specific tax cut figures which was not helpful at this stage for Budget preparations.

Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Think in at Fota Island Hotel in Cork. Picture: Damien Eagers
Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Think in at Fota Island Hotel in Cork. Picture: Damien Eagers

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"It leads to assumptions about views that the Cabinet have not signed off on," said Mr Kenny.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaks to the media at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Think in
Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD speaks to the media at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Think in

The Finance Minister said he believed Mr Varadkar was a good minister and a good communicator and his citing of figures for potential tax cuts was an attempt to give a popular example - not giving out specific details of a Budget yet to be agreed.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said the issue had been exaggerated and it was time to move on. "There's no gagging anybody," he said of the Taoiseach's admonishment of the Health Minister. Mr Coveney said the Health Minister's talk about €5 or €10 tax cuts was "normal speech" rather than "economic speech".

The Fine Gael TDs, Senators and MEPs continue discussions today ahead of the Dail return next Wednesday with a critical 18 months of politics in prosptect. The Taoiseach told his party their job was to ensure that those who had not yet felt the benefits of economic recovery soon found their situation was bettered.

Mr Noonan addressed the gathering for 10 minutes as he provided a run-down on the state of the economy, before departing for Milan where he meets EU finance and eurozone ministers later today.

The Finance Minister took questions from the parliamentary party and they later broke into groups for discussion, with the results to be relayed to Mr Noonan later. The Minister said he was prepared to listen to suggestions which would grow the economy - not about give-aways that might win votes.

There was a similar session later with the Health Minister Leo Varadkar. This morning Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton will address the meeting with follow-up discussions to end after lunch.

Party organisers said they had deliberately not invited outside or expert speakers, who are often a feature of these back-to-Dail gatherings. The emphasis is on discussing political issues and tactics ahead of three by-elections in the coming months, in Dublin South West, Roscommon-South Leitrim, and Carlow Kilkenny, and a general election in the spring 2016 at very latest.

Irish Independent

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