Martin stresses FF ‘fairness’ as he takes aim at ‘out of touch’ FG at ardfheis

Party leader uses keynote address to attack Taoiseach as divisive force in Irish society

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin stressed in his ardfheis speech that  the Government is “on notice” to deliver in the areas of housing and health. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin stressed in his ardfheis speech that the Government is “on notice” to deliver in the areas of housing and health. Photograph Nick Bradshaw

 

Fine Gael and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar are “out-of-touch” elites who are seeking to divide Irish society, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has claimed.

Mr Martin used the keynote leader’s address at the Fianna Fáil ardfheis to attack Mr Varadkar and cast his own party as one that would never seek to divide Irish society.

“Their biggest priority has been a push for a more divisive and regressive tax policy,” Mr Martin said of Mr Varadkar’s move to raise the threshold at which people enter the higher rate of income tax. “And no interest in tackling the deep problems in public services.”

The speech emphasised a theme repeatedly used over the weekend by speakers at the ardfheis, as Fianna Fáil figures attempt to paint Mr Varadkar’s Fine Gael as a right-wing counterpoint to their message of “fairness”.

On the Taoiseach’s stated goal of representing those who get up early in the morning, Mr Martin said: “Only an out-of-touch elite could have come up with the idea of trying to divide society into those who get up early in the morning and everyone else.”

Move to right

Recent months have seen a “big move to the right by Fine Gael”, he claimed.

“I’m sorry, but we will never accept labelling the sick, pensioners, children with special needs, people with disabilities or people looking for a home as being less entitled to society’s support.

“The decision by Fine Gael to head off on this new divisive road is more about positioning for an election than trying to govern.”

In the confidence-and-supply deal Fianna Fáil agreed with Fine Gael, Mr Martin claimed his party “stopped the worst of the unfair and regressive policies of Fine Gael”.

But the Cork South-Central TD said this did not mean Fianna Fáil was happy “with this Government or that we can achieve anything close to our full programme”.

The change of leadership in Fine Gael had made things worse, he argued.

As well as the alleged lurch to the right, there is now an emphasis on spin and communications, Mr Martin claimed. He criticised Mr Varadkar’s new special communications unit, which was allocated €5 million in the budget.

“He has appointed no expert to advise on health, or housing, or Brexit or any other of the most urgent problems – but he has an entire team to shoot videos to sell his image.”

Mr Martin stressed the Government is “on notice” to deliver in the areas of housing and health.

On the issue of Brexit, the party passed a motion calling for a frictionless, electronic Border in the style of the M50 toll barrier.

It also called on the Government to allow Revenue to continue to prepare for all Brexit outcomes including the possibility of a hard Border.

The party also agreed to table a motion in the Dáil this week seeking to repeal controversial pension provisions, which affect 36,000 people.

Social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea, who will bring the motion to the House, has called for the correction of the anomaly whereby pensions are averaged out over the number of years worked rather the number of PRSI contributions paid.

This anomaly has mainly affected women who had to leave work due to the marriage ban or to raise children.