Cormac McQuinn: 'Fianna Fáil attacks FG for promising 'sun, moon and stars' but Martin vague over his party's plans'

Fianna Fáil’s campaign was launched in Dublin where Micheál Martin’s party desperately needs to pick up seats if he’s to become Taoiseach. He was joined by one key hopeful, Senator Catherine Ardagh, who lost out on a Dáil seat in Dublin South Central by less than 40 votes in 2016.

After congratulating Ms Ardagh on recently becoming a mother of twins, Mr Martin was soon pressed by reporters on issues ranging from Brexit to the future of the TDs caught up in ‘votegate’ controversy. Here’s five things we learned:


1. Mr Martin gets irritated when Fine Gael criticises Fianna Fáil over Brexit

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European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee claimed Fianna Fáil can’t be trusted on Brexit after MEP Billy Kelleher warned he will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement in the European Parliament. He has concerns over EU citizens’ rights in Northern Ireland.

Mr Martin branded Ms McEntee’s criticisms as “plain silly”. He said all legislation deserves scrutiny, but insisted Mr Kelleher will be supporting the deal. He sought to puncture any boost Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is hoping to get from the Brexit deal. Mr Martin argued Boris Johnson’s deal is worse for Ireland than Theresa May’s would have been.


2. Fianna Fáil has to distance itself from Fine Gael

Allowing the Fine Gael-led minority Government to stay in power has left Fianna Fáil open to attack from Sinn Féin, which claims it amounted to a coalition. Mr Martin needs to distance his party from Fine Gael and is attacking its record in housing and health, and said: “We have opposed irresponsible Fine Gael policies. We’ve demanded tax and social support changes be fair.”


3. Fianna Fáil is ready to attack Fine Gael promises but not outline its own

The Fianna Fáil leader was vague on his party’s election promises. He’s pledged a new approach to delivering targets in tackling crises in housing and health but is yet to provide detail on how the party will do this. Efforts to tackle insurance and childcare costs are also promised, but not explained in detail. Mr Martin accused Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty of promising the “sun, moon and stars” in €5-a-week State pension increases months after Fine Gael “strongly resisted” increases in the Budget. Mr Martin didn’t offer his plans for the pension. His party’s overall budget plan is promised next week.


4. ‘We made mistakes, but we laid the foundation for the recovery’

That’s Mr Martin’s argument to claims his party can’t be trusted with the economy after the economic disaster it presided over a decade ago. He insisted this argument is not as important to the electorate as Fine Gael seems to believe it is and said: “They’ve been banging that drum for quite a while.” He argued that in the “teeth of the crisis”, it was the late Brian Lenihan’s plan that “laid the foundations for the economic recovery”.

“Yes, we did make mistakes in terms of overspending and reducing taxation,” he said, claiming at the time Fine Gael wanted to spend more. He added: “We were clear we needed to change we have changed as a political party.”


5. Martin not ruling out a place in cabinet for ‘votegate’ TDs

Mr Martin sacked senior TDs Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley from his front bench after the votegate controversy erupted. But he hasn’t ruled out ministerial roles for the pair if he becomes Taoiseach.

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