Thursday 14 December 2017

War of words as Martin singles out 'PR-obsessed' Varadkar for criticism

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the minority Government was ‘drifting’. Photo: Arthur Carron
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the minority Government was ‘drifting’. Photo: Arthur Carron
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A war of words has broken out between Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar.

The ambitious Fine Gael minister was singled out for criticism in a speech by Mr Martin, who claimed Mr Varadkar was "PR-obsessed".

Mr Varadkar, meanwhile, hit back, accusing Mr Martin of taking "cheap shots" using "invective more typical of Trump".

Mr Martin made his remarks at Fianna Fáil's annual commemoration of 1798 Rebellion hero Theobald Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown, Co Kildare.

He argued that his party had succeeded in stopping "many of the most damaging Fine Gael policies" by making the deal to facilitate the minority Government.

He referred to the recent Budget and said Mr Varadkar "had acknowledged that they have departed from years of socially unjust and unfair budgets".

Mr Varadkar made the remarks on Budget day, highlighting increases in social benefits payments secured after years of cuts that had occurred since the beginning of the economic crisis.

Mr Martin went on to argue that the Government was "drifting" and highlighted hospital waiting lists, which he said "has been met with near silence by the Government".

He referred to Mr Varadkar in his former role as health minister, saying: "The replacement of one PR-obsessed minister with a more careful successor has simply confirmed that the Government has no health policy."

He added that policies such as compulsory health insurance had been "abandoned" and it was "now time to put the priority where it is most needed - building our public health system".

Mr Varadkar last night hit back at the Fianna Fáil leader.

"Micheál Martin has nothing to offer than mis-characterisation of Fine Gael and cheap shots at other politicians," he said. "He should have used his Bodenstown speech to offer a vision of the future worthy of Tone, rather than invective more typical of Trump."

The Irish Independent sought comment from Mr Martin to this comparison of his remarks to political attacks made by Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential campaign. A Fianna Fáil spokesman said Mr Martin had "no comment" on Mr Varadkar's remarks.

Mr Martin has previously made strong criticisms of Mr Trump, including in yesterday's speech.

Earlier, he expanded on his claim that Mr Varadkar is PR-obsessed, criticising Fine Gael's stewardship of the health service.

"I was making the very clear point that all we got over the last two to three years was public relations," he said. "I'm saying today we need to go back to basics and build a public health system of some strength and with adequate resources."

In his speech, he said that Wolfe Tone "helped create the republican tradition which has long been the dominant allegiance of the Irish people".

He said Fianna Fáil had returned to his grave at Bodenstown every year for 90 years "to remind ourselves of the tradition which inspired our foundation".

Irish Independent

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