Wednesday 18 July 2018

Varadkar: 'I want to talk policy - not childish, trivial nonsense about leadership'

Leo Varadkar: 'I suppose you have to put up with that sort of stuff. That's politics' Photo: Tony Gavin
Leo Varadkar: 'I suppose you have to put up with that sort of stuff. That's politics' Photo: Tony Gavin

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

The potential heirs to the leadership of Fine Gael and Sinn Féin have both shot down suggestions that their party bosses are on the way out.

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar has accused commentators of engaging in "a childish, useless, trivial" discourse about his intentions.

"I suppose nearly every week now there is one columnist or another, probably who I don't know, probably doesn't know me from Adam, who seems to be able to write 1,000 words on my inner thoughts and motivations. You just have to put up with that sort of stuff. That's politics," he said.

Mr Varadkar also said that whenever Taoiseach Enda Kenny does step down there is likely to be more candidates outside of himself and Simon Coveney who are seen as the frontrunners.

Read more: Leo and the politically curious case of the reluctant could-be Taoiseach

"There's more to Fine Gael than Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney," he said.

"I'm sure there are other potential candidates there. I imagine they don't like being discounted by the media in the way that they are."

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is seen as the dark horse in the leadership race, but she was also quoted over the weekend as saying that Mr Kenny would be given all the time and space he needs to decide his exit strategy.

She said it was not her "style" to engage in leadership speculation.

It was also reported yesterday that Mr Kenny and Finance Minister Michael Noonan told Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin in the wake of the General Election that their preferred successor at the top of Fine Gael would be Paschal Donohoe.

However, the Public Expenditure Minister told the Irish Independent recently that he will not take part in the next leadership contest.

The renewed focus on the leadership race came after Mr Varadkar announced plans to try to link social welfare rises to the cost of living - without first holding formal discussions with other ministers.

Many within his party have speculated that this is the latest attempt to curry favour with a popular measure.

However, speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Mr Varadkar said: "It's so disappointing that when you actually want to have a serious policy debate about something that [the media] don't want to have a serious policy debate."

Read more: Varadkar flushes away talk of being FG leader

The Irish Independent can also reveal today that the minister is considering increasing the dole for those who have just been made redundant. But the rate would remain the same - €188 - for those classified as being long-term unemployed.

Under Mr Varadkar's proposals, the rate for jobseekers recently made unemployed would rise to €215 for the first three months. If the individual remains unemployed, it will reduce to €200 for the next three months and then be brought down to the standard €188 rate after that.

"The standard rate for jobseekers is €188 a week and they modelled what it would cost if they made it €215 for the first three months and then €200 for three to six months, before going down to €188," Mr Varadkar said.

"The cost of doing that is in the region of €34m-€35m.

"So I do think it is a good idea, but what I will have to do in the run-up to the Budget is negotiate with Paschal Donohoe and I am sure my list of priorities will be more expensive than what he can allocate to me - and there are other priorities too."

Meanwhile Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald indicated she does not expect Gerry Adams to retire soon.

Read more: Adams: No truth in five-year retirement plan

She said "acres" have been written about his eventual departure because his continued presence "upsets, annoys, irritates elements within the commentariat".

"We make our own decisions on these matters," she added.

Irish Independent

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