A WAR OF words has erupted between the Taoiseach and the leader of Fianna Fáil.
Micheál Martin strongly criticised Fine Gael, saying re-electing Enda Kenny as Taoiseach would be bad for Ireland. The comments sparked a day of attacks from the two party leaders.
Speaking on Today with Seán O’Rourke this morning, the Fianna Fáil leader said: “We cannot let Fine Gael back into government for the sake of this country and for the sake of the future because Fine Gael and the Taosieach let the mask slip before Christmas when he said he wanted US tax rates.
“And when you have US tax rates you have US inequality, you have decimation of public services – the kind that we’ve witnessed now over the past number of years, particularly in the health services where there has been chaos.”
Responding to Martin’s comments while on a trade mission in the Netherlands, Kenny told RTÉ that Fianna Fáil had caused “an economic catastrophe” in Ireland that “drove away thousands of young people”.
“I want them to be able to return to Ireland to their own home, to work in their own country.
Fine Gael and Labour have a clear plan, a clear strategy to fulfil the remit given to us by the people to fix our public finances and get the country back to work.
“Fianna Fail have opposed every one of those measures and what they want to do is go back to the same old way that destroyed public services, that we are now rebuilding. And the challenge for government is to sustain the recovery, to make it felt throughout the country.”
Kenny said the government is committed to reducing taxes, creating jobs and investing in public services. He described Martin’s attack as desperate.
Fine Gael also rolled-out this provocative Vine to add further fuel to the flames:
Martin hits back
But the Fianna Fáil leader – who is touting himself as the only alternative Taoiseach to Enda Kenny – hit back in a statement issued after lunch, accusing Kenny of resorting to “a string of well-worn cliches” in his comments from the Netherlands.
“He ignored the substance of our criticism and just rolled out his standard attack on Fianna Fáil,” Martin said.
No matter how much he blusters, Enda Kenny can’t get away from the fact that his tax plans are deeply unfair, give the most to the wealthiest and endanger vital public services.
He said that if the Fine Gael leader could stand over what he was saying he should meet him in a direct one-on-one debate – a challenge Kenny has so far failed to take up.
Ruling out coalitions
When pushed by O’Rourke as to why he has ruled out a potential coalition with Sinn Féin, Martin said his stance on this was “for very good reasons” and “well-articulated already”.
Martin said a deal with Fine Gael is also unlikely as the party has “ideologically gone to the right”, adding its vision is “just not compatible with where we want to take Irish society … We want people to thrive not just survive”.
Martin became frustrated with the line of questioning, noting he is consistently asked about who he might go into government with rather than the issues.
At this point, O’Rourke noted: “I don’t mean to upset you or anything like that.” To which Martin replied: “You’re not upsetting me.”
Later in the interview he laughed when asked who might be Tánaiste if he was the Taoiseach, saying he wasn’t going to go there.
‘A sham fight’
An unimpressed Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams described the exchange between Martin and Kenny as a “sham fight”.
He said both parties represent “two sides of the same conservative coin which has dominated politics here for too long”.
There isn’t an iota of difference between the conservative policies of Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin. Both are champions of austerity and cuts to the living standards of working people.
“The present, Fine Gael-led government is merely implementing a policy plan laid out for it by their Fianna Fáil predecessors.”
During the interview Martin also said the government were not prioritising health services and needed to invest more in this area.
O’Rourke noted that there were 473 people on trolleys in hospital yesterday, and on the same day five years ago – when Fianna Fáil was still in power – this figure stood at 569 people.
Martin responded by saying the figure was higher a few days ago, and Fianna Fáil had reduced waiting lists and better invested in the health service.
The Cork South-Central TD added that a decent health service and end to homelessness would not be possible if a US tax model was implemented here.
He was also critical of the setting up of Irish Water, describing it as “a debacle”.
- additional reporting from Hugh O’Connell
Originally published: 12.10pm