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'It’s nasty politics': Martin says Varadkar will run a Boris-style general election campaign

He also accused Fine Gael of ‘targeting’ Fianna Fáil members.

Image: Leah Farrell

LEO VARADKAR WILL run a Boris Johnson-style campaign in the next general election, according to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who also accused the Taoiseach of engaging in “nasty politics”. 

There were rowdy scenes in the Dáil this week when Leo Varadkar came to the defence of former Fine Gael TD Dara Murphy, claiming that he has been present for more Dáil votes in this calendar year than Martin.

“I think an impression is being created that he was totally absent from the Dáil for two years – that of course isn’t true,” Varadkar said of Murphy. “In fact, he was present for more votes in this calendar year than deputy [Micheál] Martin was and the same number as deputy Martin was since the middle of July.”

Varadkar also told Martin that he “shouldn’t be so sensitive” and asked the Fianna Fáil leader if TDs from his party caught up in the votegate controversy “will be rewarded” with becoming ministers if Fianna Fáil makes it into government next year. 

Martin called the Taoiseach a “nasty piece of work”, adding that his “personal attacks” in recent days “impresses no one”.

When asked about the tetchy exchange with Varadkar this week, Martin claimed Fine Gael and the Taoiseach have been engaged in “political targeting” for some time now against some members of the Fianna Fáil party. 

Targeting Lisa Chambers

Martin claimed there has been a concerted effort to single out Mayo TD Lisa Chambers, highlighting a recent video Fine Gael released on social media this week. 

Lisa Chambers is one of the party members caught up in the votegate controversy, which involves politicians voting on behalf of their colleagues in the Dáil chamber. 

The controversy dominated the political agenda in October, when it emerged Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Niall Collins had pressed the voting button of his colleague Timmy Dooley in the Dáil six times in one session.

Chambers made an admission at the time that she also voted for one of her absent colleagues during the same session, before pushing her own button.

She accidentally sat in Dara Calleary’s seat, she explained, but she accepted that she should have told the teller so that the record could be corrected. It has since been reported that she also voted on behalf of Dooley earlier this year. 

Timmy Dooley and Niall Collins were removed from the frontbench over the matter, and an investigation by the Dáil Ethics Committee on what sanctions they may face will reconvene in January. The committee’s report on Chambers said she should be issued an official warning for her conduct

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Martin said regarding the video:

That is bad politics. That’s dirty politics, dirty tricks stuff within the bowels of the Fine Gael Press Office. Let them at it but I’m not going down that route.
Fine Gael are targeting individuals within our party. And that’s the nasty side of it.

Coming to the defence of Lisa Chambers, he said she is “a capable parliamentarian, and was elected well by her people in Mayo”.

He claimed that over the period of 18 months his party noticed “that there has been a targeting”. “And I think its political targeting… I think that’s ongoing… I’ve no doubt about it, that’s the nasty side of it,” he said.

“‘Can we take people out?’ It seems to be on the agenda of Fine Gael. And that’s what I was getting at. And rather than dealing themselves with the issues, it’s about deflection and ‘how many people can we get?’” said Martin.

Calling last week’s complaint made by Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd against Lisa Chambers over votegate “vexatious”, he denied there is a marked difference in the way that Chambers has been treated in comparison to Dooley and Collins. 

file-photo-fianna-fcil-td-lisa-chambers-is-to-be-issued-with-an-official-warning-for-her-involvement-in-the-votegate-controversy-end-26 Source: Leah Farrell

‘Nasty politics’

“No there’s not,” he said, again asking the question of why “Fine Gael people” are reviewing 12 months of video to examine Chambers’ movements in the Dail.

“That’s my point about this is getting in very nasty politics. So you have teams of people in Fine Gael, or whatever, are going through video after video, and can we nail somebody, and can we get somebody?” he said.

He added that there is a distinction to be drawn between people voting on behalf of others who are within the chamber and those that are not.

“Everybody has admitted that we had lax practices in terms of voting,” he said, adding that there is a members’ interest committee which has dealt with Chambers’ role in the case.

Martin said his team spoke to Chambers about the issue.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is part of a pattern where TDs have been voting for other TDs who are in the chamber”, said Martin, who added he didn’t know whether Chambers did vote for Dooley or not. 

Regarding the video of Chambers, he suggested it “was in the can” when the Taoiseach did his interview on Saturday on RTÉ with Brendan O’Connor and “said ‘look Lisa Chambers should be de-selected and what is Micheál Martin going to do with Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley’”.

“Of course it was in the can and then they do an attack video. That’s all coincidence? I’m supposed to believe that’s all coincidence,” he said.

Martin said Fine Gael are “very organised”, stating: 

They are – in a very dirty way.

He said the deputies caught up in votegate “work very hard… No one can question their commitment to political work”.

He accused the Taoiseach of targeting Fianna Fáil members when Varadkar is asked questions about Dara Murphy or Verona Murphy. 

Boris Johnson-type campaign

The Fianna Fáil leader also raised concerns about the Taoiseach and his ministers making announcements about things that he says will not be delivered for at least 10 or 20 years. 

“The government keeps talking about 2040, 2030. But when you’re on the ground in hospitals, meeting with people, they want to know what’s going to happen in 2020,” he said. 

Martin said it is similar to the kind of “Boris Johnson-type campaign which I think Leo Varadkar is going to run [in the general election] I think, that type of tactics”.

“I think also though we’ve seen negative tactics emerge and Fine Gael have said this, they’ve trailed this – they are going to go for Fianna Fáil frontbench people, they are going to go for me, that it’s going to be ‘attack dog’ approach. That’s what I mean by the nasty side of politics coming out,” he said. 

In response to Martin’s comments, Fine Gael said in a statement: 

The voting irregularities of frontbench Fianna Fáil TDs – Timmy Dooley, Niall Collins, Lisa Chambers – were exposed by good journalism. It is disappointing that instead of responding to the serious issues raised by the lax voting behaviour of some of his TDs, Micheál Martin is spreading conspiracy theories. As for targeting individuals, Frances Fitzgerald still awaits an apology from Micheál Martin for the events of 2017.

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