Independent Ministers to seek commitments from Varadkar

Stepaside Garda station and Beaumont Hospital A&E likely to feature in talks

Independent Ministers will seek a number of new commitments as part of discussions with the new Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar.

Mr Varadkar has already spoken to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Independent Ministers to seek meetings this week ahead of a Dáil vote on a new taoiseach on June 13th.

It is expected the discussions with the Independents will centre on the need to accelerate a number of requests they have, including the re-opening of Stepaside Garda station in south Dublin, a new emergency department at Beaumont Hospital, a mobile catheterisation lab at Waterford University Hospital and the advancement of flood-protection measures.

The Independent Alliance will also ask for a number of Bills to be passed, including legislation to automatically ban drink drivers, two proposed by Kevin “Boxer” Moran to introduce tougher sentences for sex offenders and another to provide protection for homeowners facing repossession.

Independent Ministers are stressing there will be no “huge confrontation” with Mr Varadkar, insisting he has his own internal battles.

One said: “We will not be providing any obstacles. He was not helpful during the negotiations but he has accepted the situation he has found himself in. We will throw a few shapes but I don’t anticipate any big difficulties.”

The Ministers are also insisting they are not expecting any change in positions.

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath, who is a member of the Independent Alliance, said he was looking forward to working with Mr Varadkar. He described him as a very supportive colleague who had backed the alliance at Cabinet on a number of occasions.

Mr McGrath said his priorities had not changed since entering Government, citing the UN Convention on human rights, the cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital and a new emergency department for that hospital.

He said: “The last two or three weeks have been occupied by the election. Our focus now is to ensure the commitments we have secured will be implemented as soon as possible.

“I have not been shy in telling Leo or anyone else at the Cabinet table about what I want and I know the other members of the Independent Alliance will do likewise.”

Thursday meeting

It is expected that Mr Varadkar will meet the Independent Alliance, headed by Minister for Transport Shane Ross, on Thursday. The group will meet in advance to prepare their strategy ahead of the discussions.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs John Halligan said the members did not expect to be moved from their positions. He said the Independent Alliance had met their commitments under the Programme for Government and expected Fine Gael to do likewise.

Mr Varadkar will also hold discussions with Minister for Communications Denis Naughten and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone.

Mr Naughten will seek commitments from the Fine Gael leader that his original requests contained in the Programme for Government will be honoured.

Katherine Zappone is expected to seek a commitment that a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment will be held next year

Some of his requests include extending the opening hours of medical assessment units in Roscommon and improving ambulance cover in the county.

Ms Zappone is expected to seek a commitment that a referendum on repealing the eighth amendment will be held next year.

Mr Varadkar has already insisted he will not be renegotiating the programme for partnership government or the confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil.

However, he has said neither agreement should be the limit and insisted there is scope to go beyond both.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has already requested urgent improvement in addressing the housing crisis, access to health services and infrastructure investment to improve areas such as broadband and public transport.

He will also stress the requirement to meet the commitments made in terms of budgetary spending and the agreement to ensure there are no surprises between the two parties.

A number of Fianna Fáil TDs said preparation for an election would now increase, in expectation of one being called this year.

One frontbench TD said Fianna Fáil would be “remarkably stupid” not to be in discussions about election strategy.

However, senior figures in the party insist it is committed to the three-year confidence-and-supply agreement reached with Fine Gael.