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YESTERDAY, ENDA KENNY made the long-awaited announcement that he was stepping down as leader of Fine Gael, and will step down as Taoiseach once a new leader is elected in time for the June bank holiday.

The main contenders are Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar, who’ll have to win over the independents and Fianna Fáil to ensure that there’s still a Fine Gael Taoiseach in place in time for the summer recess.

So, at the first Leaders’ Questions since Enda’s announcement, it was Sinn Féin who stuck the knife in, with Mary Lou McDonald saying that Kenny became Taoiseach at a time of crisis, and leaves the country in the midst of one.

Here’s how it played out.

It’s been quite the busy morning.

After all of the tributes to Enda Kenny yesterday, the upper echelons of Fine Gael have been setting their stalls out today.

Frances Fitzgerald will NOT campaign to be the next leader, and Michael Noonan said he will bow out as Minister for Finance once a successor is chosen.

Simon Coveney, meanwhile, has been launching his campaign this morning.

Richard Bruton, meanwhile, is set to make a statement outside the Department of Education at midday on whether or not he will campaign to be leader.

He’s been here once before, when he unsuccessfully tried to oust Enda Kenny as leader in 2010.

With all this political wrangling going on, it’ll be Paschal Donohoe who faces the opposition at Leaders’ Questions today.

Here’s Paschal, on the far right hand side, looking a bit lonely on the Fine Gael frontbench right now.

paschal Source: Oireachtas TV

Stephen Donnelly, from Fianna Fáil, up first.

He wants to talk about Brexit.

“It’s the government’s job to prepare the country,” he says, “but we’re not as prepared as we should be”.

He says jobs will be lost and opportunities will be missed due to the government’s approach.

Businesses are not equipped to deal with Brexit, and the government wrongly believes that enough is being done, according to Donnelly.

stephen donnelly

Irish businesses need support, he continues.

“Given the scale of Brexit,” Donnelly says, “do you believe much more needs to be done to turn Brexit into an opportunity?”

Donohoe retorts that it is clear for JP Morgan, insurance companies and other multinationals that the government has a clear plan for Brexit.

He said that Fianna Fáil are unfairly dismissive of the government’s plans.

“We have committed to strengthen our national capital investment,” he says.

Investment in infrastructure and schools are planned in the wake of Brexit, according to Minister Donohoe.

Special supports are in place for the agriculture and tourism sector.

Donohoe accuses Donnelly of ignoring the facts on what the government has done.

donohoe

Donnelly says “with respect”, Donohoe’s response goes to the heart of businesses’ concerns from Brexit.

“They look to the State for support,” he says.

“I don’t believe the government is doing everything it can,” Donnelly adds.

Donohoe said he hoped for “more substance and less spin” from Donnelly on the topic.

He said he wished that the Fianna Fáil TD would acknowledge the progress made by the government.

“This is a challenge that will take years collectively, to respond to. And we will,” Donohoe says.

He says the government will build on what it has already delivered.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald is up next.

She wishes Enda Kenny and his family “the best for the future”.

“But, for most people, he was a very bad Taoiseach,” she said.

She says that all Kenny delivered was “crisis after crisis” and that the government had delivered “chaos in spades”.

“He came in at a time of crisis, and leaves in a time of crisis.”

McDonald also criticises the agreement between FF and FG.

She also has a go at the “great demoniser” of the poor and the minister of “chronic homelessness”, referring to Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney.

The Sinn Féin TD says that neither would have a clear mandate from the people to lead the government.

mary lou 2

“Do you agree that the new Minister should call a general election?” she asks Donohoe.

The Fine Gael Minister responds that all Sinn Féin is interested in is “continued strife”.

He defends the government’s record, citing the bank bailout and the high unemployment rate it inherited in 2011.

“Enda Kenny led a government that many people, including YOU, argued was not possible: lead to a recovered society,” Donohoe says.

He says McDonald sees economic progress everyday – new Luas, Grangegorman campus – that she said wasn’t possible.

He says that McDonald’s statement made clear the “Sinn Féin agenda” of crisis.

paschal 2

The Minister’s recipe for “continued progress” is that children at a school in their local constituency waited 20 years for a school, says McDonald.

“This government is not about stability,” she says. “It is about inertia, and chaos.”

She says Donohoe seems very sure of himself.

“Should the new leader call a general election?” she repeats.

Donohoe doesn’t answer directly, pointing to a number of measures that the government has followed through on.

Mick Barry, from Solidarity-PBP , up next.

He says that the conversation around Enda Kenny has been one-sided so far. He has a go at editorials speaking positively about Kenny.

All the praise coming his way is different from the views of many others around the country.

He says the Taoiseach is bequeathing “shocking social inequality”.

“An Ireland where a job is no longer a guarantee of a roof over your head. This is the Ireland Enda Kenny helped to shape,” Barry says.

He says the “two young princes waiting in the wings” supported Kenny and the Fine Gael party in this.

He says “an honest historian” would say that Kenny’s legacy would the inequality in the country.

barry

“You have no monopoly of compassion,” Donohoe retorts.

He accuses Barry of perpetuating the “creed of strife”.

The Minister again points to progress made by the government in education, health etc.

“There are no princes or princesses in our party. We represent all levels of society,” he says.

He adds: “I find it so ironic that the latest incarnation of your movement is “Solidarity”. What we have from you is a party looking to enforce communism on people who deserve better.”

He also says that Barry ignores the progress made.

Barry asks the Minister to confirm that the Taoiseach will be in receipt of a lump sum of €378,000, and an annual payment of €126,000 per annum, once he steps down.

He says Donohoe will go into pay talks seeking a two-tier pay system in the public sector.

“The Solidarity I stand for is in the tradition of Connolly and Larkin,” Barry says.

He asks how Kenny’s pension can be defended.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Donohoe says the government is working to restore pay, as it did with teachers.

In negotiations around public pay, “we will build on progress”, Donohoe says.

 

donohoe 4

Independent Thomas Pringle is last. He wishes Kenny the best in his retirement.

He accuses Leo Varadkar of launching a “self serving” campaign with his “Welfare Cheats” initiative.

He says Varadkar has misled on figures around social welfare fraud in a bid to aid his leadership campaign.

Pringle says that the government loses far more from economic crime, such as Nama losses.

“Your government refuses to accept there was anything wrong,” he says.

What about the people overcharged for their mortgages, he asks.

“Your government has never taken white-collar crime seriously,” Pringle says.

He asks: when will corporate criminals and tax cheats be targeted?

pringle

“All fraud is wrong,” Donohoe says, adding that all fraud should be punished by the State.

Tax fraud is a matter the Revenue Commissioner “pursues relentlessly”, he says.

Income support fraud is particularly worthy of investigation, in relation to social welfare, he says.

“Those involved in defrauding the State from a form of payment has to be tackled,” he says.

The €506 million figure relates both to control and anti-fraud activity he says. Since the campaign was launched, the department has received 1,250 reports from the public in relation to social welfare fraud.

This is a two-time increase on the figures a year ago.

“The whole purpose of this is to stop the abuse of taxpayers money.”

Pringle retorts that only the fraud of social welfare is actively pursued.

White collar crime is rampant in the State, he says.

The money that could be saved by the Exchequer from this form of crime far outweighs that saved by social welfare fraud.

Donohoe responds by saying he is unsure if Pringle supports measures against social welfare fraud.

The government is committed to tackling all forms of fraud, he says.

And that’s it for Leaders Questions.

So what happened outside Leinster House while that was going on?

Richard Bruton has said he won’t challenge for Fine Gael leader, and has thrown his support behind Leo Varadkar.

Looks like a straight shootout between the “two princes” then, as Mick Barry referred to Coveney and Varadkar.

Thanks for joining us.

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