Varadkar compares Mary Lou McDonald to Marine Le Pen
Sinn Féin deputy leader accuses Taoiseach of abandoning families in sharp Dáil exchanges
Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has compared Ms McDonald to Marine Le Pen. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Ms McDonald had accused Mr Varadkar of abandoning families forced to pay a “second mortgage” in childcare.
The Taoiseach rounded on her and accused her party of opting out of government in both North and South, and of failing to take its seats in Westminster.
When he said her party was the only one “that has never done anything for children”, Ms McDonald accused him of having “considerable neck” with that attack when there were hundreds of children in emergency accommodation.
Mr Varadkar then compared the Sinn Féin deputy leader to far-right French leader Marine Le Pen despite their different politics, because “she always goes back to her script”.
Ms McDonald opened the row during leaders’ questions when she claimed there was a “sham fight” between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over budget tax options as they would introduce measures to disproportionately benefit the well-off.
She also called for the Government to increase the universal childcare subsidy from 50c an hour to €2.50 an hour.
This would give struggling families €420 a month and cost the State €116 million in a full year, she said.
‘Balance the books’
Mr Varadkar said his first priority in Budget 2018 was to “balance the books for the first time in 10 years”.
The Taoiseach said it was the right thing to do, especially for children, who would bear the consequences if the State continued to increase the national debt.
He said that in the budget there would be investment in infrastructure.
“After that we will find some space for people in Ireland who go to work,” he said.
Successive governments had increased child benefit in the State to one of the most generous in Europe, as well as introducing subsidies in childcare and free GP care for children under six.
He asked Ms McDonald: “What has Sinn Féin ever done for young families?”
He said it was “totally bogus” for Sinn Féin to say it had made a choice to stand with families.
The party, he said, had opted out of government in the South, had refused to take its seats in Westminster and did not “want to be in government in Northern Ireland, or at least that’s the way it appears”. It was “the only party in Leinster House that has done nothing for children”.
Ms McDonald said that she was raising two children and it meant she understood that “all of the cant and empty rhetoric about balancing the books is not worth a fig to struggling families”.
She told Mr Varadkar “children are all too familiar with the hardship of messed-up economic policies that you and your friends have pursued, because hundreds of them are in emergency accommodation” and said he had “considerable neck” to attack Sinn Féin over children given the Government’s record.
The Taoiseach said money could be given back to families through tax reductions, through welfare increases and pay restoration.
“We will use the budget to put money back in families’ pockets, but in a sustainable way.”
Mr Varadkar added: “I’m a keen observer of politics. More and more, even though their politics are different, Deputy McDonald reminds me of Marine Le Pen because she always goes back to her script. She delivers her question, it’s scripted. I give her an answer and she goes straight back to her script. And that’s not the kind of leadership we need.”