Saturday 16 December 2017

Taoiseach pledges to mend bridges with FF

The handling of Máire Whelan’s appointment caused concerns
The handling of Máire Whelan’s appointment caused concerns

John Downing and Sarah Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reached out to Fianna Fáil and pledged to do more over the coming weeks to mend relations between the two parties.

Speaking after his first EU leaders' summit in Brussels, Mr Varadkar insisted Fine Gael did not have to consult with Fianna Fáil about appointing judges under the two-party deal to underpin the minority coalition.

He did not apologise for the handling of the appointment of former attorney general Máire Whelan as a judge in the Court of Appeals.

The way this appointment was handled has been condemned by all parties, raised concerns among Independent government ministers, and also enraged Fianna Fáil.

But the new Taoiseach did concede it was time to make some gestures to improve relations with Fianna Fáil. He promised to set up a committee sought by Fianna Fáil to review the slow delivery of promised improvements to mental health services.

"Obviously, the week that has gone by I don't think has been helpful for either party, but we have a written agreement. That written agreement does not require that we run appointments, either judicial appointments or public appointments, by Fianna Fáil, nor could it," the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar was adamant there was no breach of the so-called "confidence and supply agreement" which guarantees the minority Government.

"But I do believe that over the next couple of weeks, it will be necessary for us to work closely as parties and have some confidence building moves or confidence building gestures," Mr Varadkar said.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin defended his approach to the controversy.

Mr Martin has been accused within Fine Gael of unfairly attacking Ms Whelan's credibility. But speaking in Brussels, Mr Martin insisted this was not the case.

"My comments were not questioning the character of Máire Whelan, and the Tánaiste had suggested that, and she's wrong in suggesting that," he said.

Irish Independent

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