James O’Connor to meet Martin as FF future on knife-edge

Cork East TD says he was ‘misled’ over road projects; unrest at FG meeting over NDP

James O’Connor said he will wait to see what happens in the meeting before making any decision on whether or not to quit the Fianna Fáil whip. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

James O’Connor said he will wait to see what happens in the meeting before making any decision on whether or not to quit the Fianna Fáil whip. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins

 

Cork East TD James O’Connor’s future as a member of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party hinges on a meeting on Thursday with Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

Mr O’Connor said on Wednesday he would consider resigning the party whip after claiming he was “misled” over road projects he believed would be included in the National Development Plan (NDP).

As well as the disquiet in Fianna Fáil, there was unrest at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party last night over plans for a number of roads in the NDP as well as claims the party is losing its identity.

During his meeting with Mr Martin and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, Mr O’Connor will be seeking commitments that a number of road projects will be progressed.

He had earlier said during an interview on C103’s Cork Today he feels he was misled by senior Government officials over the Castlemartyr and Killeagh bypass projects on the N25 along with the Fota Road into Cobh, which he believed would be included in the NDP.

He told The Irish Times the issue is a “red line” for him but he will go into the meeting to discuss the matter “in good faith”.

Mr O’Connor said he will wait to see what happens in the meeting before making any decision on whether or not to quit the Fianna Fáil whip.

Narrowed

If Mr O’Connor does quit the Fianna Fáil whip the Government majority would be further narrowed to just 81 to 78.

Speaking in Slovenia, the Taoiseach said he believed the issues raised by Mr O’Connor could be resolved.

“The National Development Plan is not an exhaustive list of projects,” he said, adding that there is a clause in the plan whereby local authorities “may bring forward proposals for relief roads or bypasses where there is significant congestion and safety issues”.

Separately, a number of Fine Gael TDs raised issues with the NDP at a fractious parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday night.

Limerick TDs Patrick O’Donovan and Kieran O’Donnell argued that the planned Limerick to Cork road should be motorway grade for its entirety.

Some contributors were critical of Mr Ryan, claiming that he is anti-road.

Two former Fine Gael ministers – Charlie Flanagan and Michael Creed – claimed the party is losing its identity as the prudent guardian of the State’s finances, with one comparing its outlook on spending to that of the Socialist Party.

Public money

The pair harshly criticised the party’s willingness to spend vast amounts of public money.

Mr Flanagan said Government spending had become like a “runaway train” and expressed concern that this approach is an unwise departure from Fine Gael’s core values of managing the public finances prudently.

He said he accepted that the pandemic had created exceptional needs in terms of funding, but that period was coming to an end.

“We now have to scale back but I don’t see much evidence of that happening,” he said. He said with a “spend, spend, spend Opposition”, it was important for the Government parties to act prudently.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar told the meeting that those criticising Government spending were being taken in by a “false narrative”.

There were a number of heated exchanges, included one between Kilkenny TD John Paul Phelan and Mr Varadkar.

Mr Creed also dismissed the idea of a pandemic bonus as a “ridiculous idea” that would backfire on the party.

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