Fianna Fáil leader Martin rules out going into government with Fine Gael

FIANNA Fáil leader Micheál Martin has firmly ruled out going into government with Fine Gael after the general election.

Mr Martin was responding to Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar’s comments in the first televised leaders’ debate on Wednesday night.

The Taoiseach said he would be prepared to enter government with Fianna Fáil if he could not form a government with other parties after the election.

But speaking in Dublin on Thursday morning Mr Martin firmly ruled this out. “People want a new government, they want a change of government and that involves Fine Gael out of government,” he said.

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He said Fine Gael was “demonising Fianna Fáil as the worst possible incarnation” but was now proposing a possible government with the party. “That doesn’t make sense to the public.” He described it as “Jekyll and Hyde behaviour” that doesn’t have credibility.

Speaking during the first live televised debate of the campaign, Mr Varadkar last night said it would not be his first choice but said he would work with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in a coalition or under a confidence and supply agreement.

“It’s not my preference, but if it’s the only way we can form a stable government in this country, I am willing to,” he said.

The Fine Gael leader said his preference was to form a coalition with Labour, Independents and potentially the Green Party.

“We’re willing to work with any other party with the exception of Sinn Féin,” he said.

During the debate Mr Martin did not answer the question directly, but instead was critical of personal attacks made against him by Fine Gael TDs during the election.

The debate was taking place in Virgin Media studios in Dublin and was moderated by broadcaster Pat Kenny.

Mr Varadkar said he had “nothing but respect” for Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, but said she was a “puppet on a string” and did not lead a normal party.

Mr Martin said he had a “fundamental problem” with how Sinn Féin was run and said the party “justify” the “murderous campaign” of the Provisional IRA.

Both said they believed a united Ireland could be a possibility during their lifetime.

Mr Martin also hit out at the “rising cost of living hitting everyone” and said the country needed a new government.

“I believe our country needs a new government, a government that will put aside the obsession with party politics,” he said.

Mr Varadkar addressed claims that Fine Gael was lacking in empathy by saying: “I know what people say about the party and me, but I care deeply about our country.”

He said that he hasn’t put it into words as well as Mr Martin, but added: “I do it in my actions.”

Both leaders traded blows on the Votegate, Dara Murphy and recent TDs’ expenses controversies.

Mr Martin said there was “no comparison” between his and Mr Varadkar’s time in the Department of Health.

Mr Martin said that he increased beds by 1,000 while he was health minister and waiting lists for operations were far lower.

Mr Varadkar said Mr Martin was showing “unbelievable arrogance” by claiming Fianna Fáil never made any mistakes in government.

He also raised a nursing homes funding controversy which Mr Martin was involved in while health minister.

Mr Martin refused to rule out appointing Fianna Fáil TDs Niall Collins and Timmy Dooley, who were caught up in the Dáil voting controversy, to cabinet and excoriated the Taoiseach for backing Mr Murphy’s campaign role for the European People’s Party.

Both leaders agreed politicians’ expenses should be reformed in the next Dáil.

After a debate on crime, both leaders were asked if they had ever taken illegal drugs.

Mr Martin said he had never done so. Mr Varadkar attempted to deflect by saying he had answered the question in a ‘Hot Press’ interview “12 or 13 years ago”.

However, when pressed by the Fianna Fáil leader and Mr Kenny, Mr Varadkar admitted: “Yes, but it was obviously a long time ago.”

With the pension age controversy dominating the election campaign in recent days, both leaders acknowledged the unfairness in the differences between public and private sector pensions. Mr Martin said this difference does “breed resentment”.

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