Sunday 22 April 2018

'I'm not afraid of young gun Varadkar, but no election yet' - Martin

Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin TD Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin TD Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Fianna Fáil will facilitate the election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach rather than risk an immediate row with Fine Gael that could hasten a general election.

Leader Micheál Martin used a two-hour meeting with the new Fine Gael head to lay down a marker ahead of October's Budget, and argued the Government was not producing enough legislation.

He "made it clear" that Fianna Fáil was not "entirely happy" with how the 'confidence and supply' arrangement has worked, particularly in the areas of housing and health.

However, he concluded there was "no push back" from Mr Varadkar and therefore he deserved "to be given reasonable time" to try to improve the situation.

"We don't believe you should have a general election every 12 months," Mr Martin said afterwards.

Mr Varadkar is now on course to become Taoiseach on Wednesday, following another series of meetings with Independent ministers.

He said last night he feels the talks with all sides are "going in the right direction".

"The meetings focused on legislation that needs to be prioritised, improving the working of the Dáil, and accelerating the implementation of commitments in the Programme for Government," he said.

After his meeting, Mr Martin denied he is concerned about the prospect of facing the 38-year-old Dublin TD in an election campaign. Many in Fianna Fáil see the next election as Mr Martin's final opportunity to become Taoiseach.

Asked whether he was concerned about going head-to-head with the Fine Gael 'young gun', Mr Martin (56) replied: "I don't feel old at all. It's a ridiculous proposition. That's not a concern and I will be leading Fianna Fáil into the next general election.

"At the last election, despite all the negative predictions, I think we did better than everybody predicted. I can assure you we will do better again next time out."

Among the issues raised by Mr Martin during his meeting was the Government's reduced investment in mental health resources, the lack of action to tackle variable mortgage interest rates and the operation of the Dáil.

He also addressed the ongoing crises at the Department of Justice - but stopped short of demanding that Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald be dropped as Justice Minister.

Asked whether he trusted Mr Varadkar, the Fianna Fáil leader said that on a personal level he had no reason not to.

"The chemistry was good. I'm a person who most people can work with," he said.

Fianna Fáil intends to take a "thematic approach" to the Budget and has demanded that there can be no "unacceptable surprises", such as the €200m that became available in the final negotiations last year.

Independent ministers Denis Naughten and Katherine Zappone also met with Mr Varadkar yesterday, along with Independent TD Michael Harty.

The Clare TD voted for Enda Kenny's election as Taoiseach but has an "open mind" in relation to his successor, saying the Government has failed rural Ireland so far. He also wants an implementation office to be set up within three months to begin work on the new 10-year plan for the health service.

Mr Naughten wants more action on rural Ireland, while Ms Zappone is seeking to change the Government's negotiating line on Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa, who has been in custody in Egypt for four years.

Irish Independent

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