Saturday 18 November 2017

'McDonald reminds me of Marine Le Pen': Varadkar

Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tony Gavin
Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Tony Gavin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Political discourse has dropped so far in Leinster House that it's hard to launch a 'shocking attack' anymore - but when the Taoiseach compared Mary Lou McDonald to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the scene temporarily froze.

Sinn Féin's deputy leader is many things but even her worst political enemies struggled to see the likeness.

It's all in the script, Leo Varadkar helpfully enlightened them. "Even though their politics is totally different, Deputy McDonald reminds me more and more of Marine Le Pen because she always goes back to her script. She delivers a scripted question and when I give her an answer and ask her a question, she goes straight back to the script again," he said. The Taoiseach might have been speaking 'off script' but there's little doubt the line of attack hadn't just popped into his head.

Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin was recently asked if he'd consider coalition with Sinn Féin if Gerry Adams stood down. His reply was that it would make no difference.

"It is very clear whatever Gerry says, Mary Lou will say - it's a fact," he said.

It seems Mr Varadkar liked the response and decided to go one better. Ms Le Pen lived in the shadow of her father for 40 years before taking over the Front National party.

Marine Le Pen. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Marine Le Pen. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Mr Adams is going for 35 straight years at the helm of Sinn Féin before it's expect the baton will be passed on to the Dublin Central TD.

Little doubt it was a personal attack but afterwards Fine Gael TDs were quick to point at a comment from the Sinn Féin deputy during what was actually a debate over childcare funding.

Ms McDonald said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were preparing to "hammer out a budget that will disproportionately help the better-off in society".

"Many parents are paying what amounts to a second mortgage to make sure their children are looked after," she said. In reply Mr Varadkar argued that Sinn Féin "is the only party in this House that has never done anything for children".

"Deputy McDonald says she has made a choice and that she stands with young families, that is totally bogus. Sinn Féin made a choice to opt out of Government," he said. Clearly vexed, Ms McDonald replied: "May I say for the record of the Dáil that 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."

Was the suggestion that Mr Varadkar couldn't understand the problems facing parents? Some TDs privately believed it was and therefore the Taoiseach's rebuke was justified.

Senator Neale Richmond went public, tweeting: "Mary Lou's Andrea Leadsom moment?" Ms Leadsom famously pulled out of the Tory leadership race after highlighting that Theresa May was childless.

The Taoiseach launched his Le Pen response. From the Fianna Fáil benches came a roar, courtesy of Thomas Byrne: "The Taoiseach should not be elevating her."

Ms McDonald was rendered speechless. It would have been a perfect moment for the lights to go out - but unfortunately for her that didn't happen until hours later when a power cut left Simon Coveney and Mattie McGrath sitting in the dark.

Irish Independent

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