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Leo Varadkar was back in the hot seat today, after days of clashes in the Dáil last week.

There were more relaxed scenes in the chamber today, particularly when the Taoiseach attempted to answer a question about Kerry roads from Danny Healy-Rae.

Elsewhere, Varadkar dealt with questions on the Catalonia referendum and the government’s new strategic communications unit.

Both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar begin Leaders’ Questions by paying tribute to those that died in the shooting in Las Vegas.

“In the faces of such horror and tragedy we stand in solidarity with our friends in the United States,” said Varadkar.

He said it was an “attack on all citizens”. The Taoiseach said he sent a message to US President Trump yesterday to state that they are standing in solidarity with them all.

Martin is raising the issue of Irish hospices and being governed by the FEMPI legislation.

He says he has visited hospices which are operating at deficits. “Words are cheap,” he says.

He asks if it is right that nurses in hospices get less pay than those working in hospitals.

“I have been told hospice beds will be cut this year if this isn’t sorted…. the current system is not sustainable,” he says.

Varadkar says that instruction did not come from this Oireachtas. He admits there are differences in pay, that ‘Section 29′ services are voluntary services and staff do not necessarily get the same rates as those in receipt of public pay.

Gerry Adams is talking about the scenes from Catalonia over the weekend.

Catalans wanted to exercise their right to vote, but he said plastic bullets were fired at them.

He says voters were peaceful and should not have been met with such violence.

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Will you use your connections to get the Spanish government to accept mediation, Adams asks the Taoiseach.

Varadkar says everyone who watched the news was “horrified” to see that level of violence happening in an EU country.

“Violence is never the solution,” he says. “It shouldn’t have happened in my view,” he adds.

He says when policemen and soldiers use violence against unarmed civilians it only engenders greater nationalism and disunity.

Adams says he wants authorities to reflect on historical issues that have occurred in other countries.

Varadkar says he absolutely agrees with Adams that dialogue is the right way forward.

He says he will take the opportunity to raise the issue with the Spanish prime minister in the coming weeks.

However, Varadkar says if there is to be a referendum again in the future, it should happen within the rules of the constitution in Spain.

Brendan Howlin is up now and he is also sending his tributes to those in Las Vegas.

He now wants to talk about the idea of “spin over substance” in the new government.

Howlin says it is unclear how many posts are being added to the new strategic communications unit.

You can read more about that below:

Varadkar surprised that the opposition are ‘more obsessed about his PR than he is’

Howlin tells the Dáil that the Taoiseach said the unit would be cost neutral, but now there are job vacancies arising and tenders going out for over €100k.

Will you commit to publishing any tracking polls paid for by the public purse and set out the costings of the new unit in detail, he asks.

If you want to see substance, I will give you examples of substance, says the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach reads out a long list of what he says his government has done. Which, in fairness, is not what was asked.

Howlin says the Taoiseach is new to the job and perhaps doesn’t  understand that he is accountable to the House and asks the questions again: The cost of the new unit and will he publish the review?

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The Taoiseach says he doesn’t have a problem with publishing polls that are commissioned.

He says there will be six staff in the new communications unit.

“I do not yet know the net cost,” he says.

He says government communications costs some €170 million and he wants to streamline that, including the reduplication of things like government logos etc. A lot of that goes on ads for things like Breast Check, flu vaccine, Tourism Ireland, and so on, but he says there can be cost savings made.

Danny Healy Rae is up now and asking about a bypass in Kerry. The Killarney bypass.

The Taoiseach said he would keen to see progress on the M22 as much as possible, but couldn’t make any promises today.

Whoops! Looks like Varadkar is a little mixed up.

“I know you are not long in the job and we will excuse you for that,” says Healy Rae, who says the Taoiseach is talking about a completely different road.

This is a different bypass altogether, says Healy Rae.

“I am getting my Kerry road projects mixed up,” jokes the Taoiseach, who says he will have to check that one out again.

That’s it for Leaders’ Questions today, folks. Join us back here tomorrow.


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