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Martin says he's unfazed by Varadkar preempting government announcements

Martin said Cabinet intends to keep the Pandemic Unemployment Payment “under review”.

Image: Julien Behal Photography/RollingNews.ie

TAOISEACH MICHEÁL MARTIN has praised his good relationship with Fine Gael party leader Leo Varadkar amid dissent among his own party members over the two leaders’ performances. 

Martin admitted that having Varadkar, Taoiseach in waiting, as his Táinaiste was “initially challenging” during an interview on RTÉ Radio’s Brendan O’Connor

When asked about Varadkar preempting government announcements, the Taoiseach said he doesn’t worry much about things like that, adding that he doesn’t think Varadkar has been doing that as much as has been commented.

“Early on there were various sorts of challenges but on a whole, our relationship is very good and we get on very well on a personal level, and with Eamon Ryan, the three of us.

We have a great facility to pick up the phone if we think there’s something bothering us or if we think there’s something wrong. We have a cabinet Coordinating Committee to hammer out any issues where there’s a disagreement.

“Leo interrogates issues and will give different perspectives on issues and he’ll weigh it up in his own mind and speak this out – which I think is a healthy thing.

“I suppose in politics, there’s a lot of noise going on and a lot of people focus on that kind of stuff, you know, ‘he said this and he said it before you said it’.

“I tend not to focus as much on that, it doesn’t bother me as much, maybe it should. It bothers some of my colleagues, maybe. I tend to focus on the substance and the policy. And I want to get things done.”

Martin said he hopes Varadkar inherits the recovery stage of the pandemic when his turn rotates around to be Taoiseach as that will be “mission accomplished”.

“Party politics have to be put aside,” he said. “My experience of meeting people on the ground. They like politicians to get on with the job. They don’t like bickering. The public doesn’t warm to that and they don’t like it.”

Martin’s interview follows a heated Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this week, where there was a backlash from some new Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators who criticised Martin and Fianna Fáil’s performance in Government.

It was agreed that a review of the party’s performance in the general election would be undertaken, while concerns were raised about the poor performance in a recent poll, which placed at the party at just 10%.

Concerns were also aired about the public criticisms of the party, and the Taoiseach’s performance, with some stating it was damaging the party. The Taoiseach is believed to have told his party members that he welcomes dissent and his door is always open.

Gardaí are currently investigating an incident during which a smoothie was thrown over the Tánaiste in Merrion Square in Dublin yesterday. Martin said he spoke to Varadkar shortly after it happened, noting “he took it very well”.

“He was quite humorous and witty about it yesterday. The great thing about Irish politics is our accessibility,” he said.

“Irish politicians can walk the streets, can go into parks, I would hate to think an event like that could inhibit or restrict that.”

‘Level 3′ 

The government decided yesterday to move Dublin up to Level 3 of its plan for living with Covid-19 amid a worsening situation with Covid-19 in Dublin. 

Dubliners are being told to stay in the county and only leave it for essential purposes, only have visitors from one other household in your home or garden and to work from home unless absolutely necessary.

When asked about media reports on whether NPHET had advised Cabinet move to Dublin to Level 4 rather than 3 this weekend, Martin said that was not that case nor was it communicated to him. 

“Our objective is to get back to Level 2 in Dublin we must really focus on adhering to the guidelines and the rules. That’s the best way to avoid Level 4.”

Using the lockdown of Kildare, Laois and Offaly as an example, Martin said have reduced the numbers contracting Covid-19 before and we can do it again.

He said NPHET voiced their concern about the growing number of cases around the country but that they did not recommend the moving to Level 3 nationwide, a level he stressed was not a “lockdown”. 

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Martin added that Cabinet intends to keep the Pandemic Unemployment Payment “under review” and moderate the rates, as well as looking at sector-specific measures. 

The government announced yesterday that it is releasing €30 million in additional grant aid to businesses in Dublin among other supports to try to help businesses bearing the brunt again, but the new supports didn’t impress the likes of the Irish Hotels Federation. 

Its president Elaina Fitzgerald Kane said last night that the measures “fall far short of what is required”. 

Former Agriculture Minister Barry Cowen has called for the Government to restore the Pandemic Unemployment Payment to those who had temporarily lost their jobs under Level 3. 

“Those who lose jobs temporarily as result of level 3 status should have full PUP payment restored. Economic supports need to be aligned to various levels recognising the value of livelihoods in efforts to protect most vulnerable,” Cowen tweeted.

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Adam Daly

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