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Leo Varadkar says Maria Bailey case 'wasn't a plus' during election campaign

In a wide-ranging interview on RTÉ this morning, Varadkar spoke about the election result, homelessness, and ruled out a reshuffle.

Image: Tony Kinlan/RTÉ

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that the Maria Bailey case “definitely wasn’t a plus” during election campaigning, during a wide-ranging interview that covered housing, the economy, a Cabinet reshuffle, and the next general election.

The Dublin TD dropped her case in relation to a fall off a swing at The Dean hotel after a massive backlash from the public and a “car-crash” radio interview. The party is now reviewing the case.

Varadkar said he’s also spoken to TD Alan Farrell, who recently featured on an episode of Prime Time over his successful compensation claim.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Marian Finucane Show today, Varadkar said that it “doesn’t look good” for the party as it tries to fight a “compo culture” in Ireland.

“We’re going to make it a requirement for all election candidates to make the party aware of previous convictions and court cases – we can’t treat them as private matters anymore because it does have an impact.”

When asked what he thought when he heard Maria Bailey’s interview on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme, Varadkar sighed and said: “I felt really bad for her”.

“She’s a mother, she’s a TD, she’s competent; the interview was ill-advised. I thought she did herself harm and I felt bad for her.”

Local elections

Responding to the party’s performance in the local elections, Varadkar admitted they didn’t do as well as they had hoped.

He said that in Dublin, a lot of votes that would have gone to Fine Gael in more affluent areas voted for the Green party, and said “we need to respond to what that means”.

He said that although unemployment was down and “people have more money in their pockets”, Varadkar said that voters “are not going back to us” and had “gone back to Fianna Fáil, so there’s an issue there for us.”

When asked what that issue is, Varadkar said: “I don’t know – the electorate are never wrong so we need to think about that.”

“It’s the first time a party in government gained seats in 20 years. Other seats we were close to but didn’t get over the line.”

“The party is in its ninth year in government and is still gaining seats, which is hopeful.”

He also said that he would be against a general election this year, but added that it was up to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who Varadkar said has “decided to link the future of this government and the future of this Dáil to Brexit”.

Varadkar also ruled out a Cabinet reshuffle, saying that he wanted Ministers with experience in their briefs to be in place when Brexit happens.

Brexit, the Waterford runway, and Gino Kenny Dáil exchange

Varadkar said that he viewed no backstop as being the same as a no-deal Brexit, and added that all sides want to avoid a hard border. He said he was looking forward to meeting with the new British Prime Minister.

Answering questions about prudent spending, Varadkar argued that a certain level of spending was needed in the Irish economy, but said he would also have to listen to warnings from watchdogs.

We’re developing two budgets for two different scenarios… one being a hard Brexit, no deal and the other for one where we have a deal and the economy begins to grow.

When asked about whether he awarded €5 million to a Waterford airport with no commercial flights against the advice of the Department of Finance, he said “Yes”, arguing that the spending was warranted.

Waterford Airport is the Coast Guard base, it needs to stay open… this is an investment, most of the money is not coming from central Government. The Government is only being asked to put in less than half of the money.

An estimated €12 million is needed to extend the Waterford runway to allow bigger planes to use the airport, €5 million is to come from the Exchequer, €2 million from three county councils, and a further €5 million from private businesses.

Speaking about the housing and homeless crisis, Varadkar said: “I know that the public find family homelessness offensive and I do too.”

He said that he wanted people who want to buy homes to be able to do so.

‘We’re now well into the biggest social housing programme in decades… after a very long time of almost no investment in social housing… but it will work’.

When asked whether his colleague Eoghan Murphy a good Minister for Housing, Varadkar said:

I don’t honestly believe that there is anyone who would be doing a better job.

Responding to criticisms levelled against Varadkar this week after he gave a short and seemingly curt reply in the Dáil to a question asked by TD Gino Kenny

Kenny had raised the case of a girl who is awaiting an import licence for medicinal cannabis, to which Varadkar said “same reply”, referencing an answer he gave Míchéal Martin earlier in relation to medicinal cannabis.

Today, Varadkar responded to the criticism to say that he was trying to save time so that other TDs could ask their questions, as they were tight on time.

I’m sorry if it came across that way… I wouldn’t want to be dismissive of any individual case or any individual person.

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