Sunday 16 June 2019

Leo looks to the positives as FG eyes second seat in CNW

Taoiseach covers all the bases on visit to sunny Cork last Friday

Maria Herlihy

The final word which An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the party faithful at a packed room in Macroom was the "best of luck with the battle ahead, when ever it comes". 

While no one was actually uttering the word 'election' out loud, it certainly seemed that he was sending out a warning shot that one could be on the way. 

The Corkman met An Taoiseach after his speech, which was warmly received, and asked him about his final comment and asked when will there be an election? 

With a smile, he said: "Well, I don't know and I don't mean to sound evasive but I don't know. I know the country has a lot of challenges but  I think overall we are going in the right direction and the Government is working well and I would like to see that continue, and that is something that I need to speak to Micheal Martin about in the next couple of weeks because when we come back from the Summer break we are entering a period of instability as there is the budget, the Brexit talks and Brexit happening for real. 

"There is also the Local and European Elections and a lot of developments along the International horizon that are risky for Ireland, such as the US potentially starting a trade war, for example, but I don't think in that kind of environment we should have any doubts about the stability of Government. We should know that we have a stable Government." 

He was asked would he describe his present relationship with the FF leader Micheal Martin as being a little like the weather on Friday in Macroom - cool and breezy? 

Again, he smiled and said: "I think it is okay, quite frankly. I did hear what he said about me but I don't want to engage in a tit for tat. He is somebody I have respect for but, you know, we are the party of Government and they are the party of opposition. While, yes, there is a competitive tension there that doesn't mean that we can't work together in the future, whether it's continuing the confidence and supply or maybe even in Government at some stage." 

After the 2011 general election, Cork North West returned two FG and one FF candidate but it was role reversal in 2016 - could yet another role reversal occur whenever the next battle comes?  Mr Varadkar said he was confident CNW could retain their seats, which would yet again bring about role reversal. 

"This is a constituency that has been strong for Fine Gael in the past and we think that it can be again but we are taking nothing for granted so this is a constituency that we will pay a lot of attention to. Minister Michael Creed is at the cabinet table and John Paul O'Shea is a great addition to the party and a really good candidate," said Mr Varadkar. 

He said: "We are keeping an eye on the projects that we really care about, whether it's the Ballyvourney -Macroom byass, which we intend to go to construction next year, the Garda station and I know there is a request for additional funding for the (Briery Gap) theatre and I will speak to Minister Josepha Madigan about it but we would also like the local authority to play its role as well." 

When outlined that there is a substantial shortfall for the Briery Gap of €1.5 million, he said that he is aware that €250,000 has been provided for its rebuild, along with the insurance money.

"But we are a Government that is committed to the arts and we have set aside funding for the arts but I'm sure that between Central Government and the Council that we can do something," he said. 

Earlier in the day, at the Clayton Hotel in Cork, Mr Varadkar held a press briefing where he was asked a number of questions on the drought, as well as on his relationship with Micheal Martin to Brexit by the waiting media. 

He warned that the Government will "not be found wanting" if the drought continues, which would plunge the multi-billion euro agri-food sector  into a potential fodder and harvest crisis.  

However, he stressed that the Government did not have immediate plans to intervene, given that the weather could dramatically change.   

On Friday, he said he had a chance to speak with Miniser Eoghan Murphy and Minister Kevin Moran earlier. 

"The advice, for now, is to ask people to conserve water. The hose pipe ban now applies nationally - and we are really asking people to conserve water. Don't wash your car, don't use a hose pipe and don't use drinking water unnecessarily. We really do have enough water in our reservoirs but if we keep using it at the rate we are using it we run the risk of it running out," said An Taoiseach. 

He insisted the Government would wait and assess the weather before deciding on any possible interventions or fodder support schemes for the hard-hit agricultural sector. "There aren't any plans at the moment for any particular response in relation to fodder." "But I know it is an issue that is emerging." 

He said  "It is too early to get into that (intervention) kind of conversation - but we absolutely acknowledge the fact that there is a water shortage, the land is very dry and the grass is not growing as fast as it ought to be this time of year."

"If we don't have some rain in the next couple of weeks we will get into difficulty and the Government won't be found wanting if we need to respond to that." 

At the press briefing, he was asksed about  a general election and he said he "did nto want to see a General Election this Autumn," and would be seeking a meeting with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin as soon as possible to endeavour to allow the Government continue in 2019. 

The Confidence  and  Supply agreement  was hammered out in 2016, and it is scheduled to end at the publication of the 2019 budget this autumn. Now, a meeting is being sought after numerous Fianna Fáil officials accused the Government of trying to 'talk up' a snap General Election in late 2018.

"I did request that we meet this week and he agreed to meet but wasn't  able to find time in the diary to meet this week," Mr Varadkar said.  "Hopefully, [we] will be free next week and we will be able to discuss  relations and the functioning of the Confidence and Supply agreement." 

He said relations between the two parties were fine. "[It is] Government and opposition, you know. I don't think they (relations) are as bad as people may believe or are making out. But, ultimately, we are the Government and they are the  Opposition. Relations are probably better than they are in traditional circumstances between Government and Opposition.

"We have had 70 pieces of legislation through, which is quite a lot, notwithstanding the fact that we are a minority Government. We have repealed the 8th Amendment, which we committed to do, giving  that choice to the Irish people, the economy is in a very good position and unemployment is at its lowest in 10 years.

"Even things where we have huge difficulties, like health and housing, we are starting to see rents stabilise and construction of new homes is increasing, it is 45pc more year on year. So I think we are seeing progress in more areas than we're falling back on."