Micheál Martin accuses Varadkar of a ‘deep’ obsession with spin

Fianna Fáil leader also criticises Government’s handling of the crisis in the North

File image of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in his office at Leinster House. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

File image of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in his office at Leinster House. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has attacked the leadership of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, accusing him of being obsessed with spin and stepping back into the past.

He has also strongly criticised the Government’s handling of efforts to restore the Northern Executive and Assembly.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Martin said that, for six years, Fianna Fáil had been saying the dysfunction of relations in Belfast, and the lack of impact that London-Dublin co-operation was having on the North, would lead to a serious crisis.

“Both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have criticised our party for having the cheek to question them and call for a new approach,’’ Mr Martin said.

“We do not need to justify ourselves to anyone when it comes to our commitment to an effective consensus approach to Northern Ireland. ’’

Addressing Ógra Fianna Fáil delegates at their national youth conference in Athlone, he called for the North to return to genuine all-party talks, with an independent chair and the full participation of the British and Irish governments.

The issue deserved a lot more attention that it had received, he added.

“Every possible outcome which does something to mitigate the impact of the English-driven decision to walk away from Europe requires a devolved government in Belfast,’’ said Mr Martin.

“While Fine Gael and Sinn Féin believe they should attack anyone raising questions, we will continue to call for the governments and parties to respect the will of the people and get back to delivering on the [Belfast] Agreement.’’

Deep crisis

Mr Martin said the 20th-anniversary of the Belfast Agreement was coming at a moment of deep crisis for Northern Ireland.

He said that at a time when Brexit was threatening enormous damage, the people of Northern Ireland had no voice at the table.

“With record homelessness and hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland, there is no Executive in Belfast working on behalf of the people,’’ Mr Martin said.

“The issues which caused the breakdown are a fraction of those which have been overcome in the past, but there is little hope at the moment.’’

Mr Martin told delegates that since last year’s national youth conference Mr Varadkar had been elected Taoiseach.

“One of the remarkable things about it has been how little change in substance there has been; in fact, there has been a step back to the past in many areas,’’ he said.

“The new Taoiseach’s obsession with trying to divide society into the deserving and the rest speaks to the views of a time and place he claims not to remember.’’

Mr Martin accused the Taoiseach of having a “deep, ongoing and overwhelming’’ obsession with spin, adding that it had become a defining characteristic of him.

“It is one that he can get away with for a while, but it will disappear as soon as attention focuses where it should be: on the near systematic failure to deliver on critical issues such as housing and health services.”

Mr Martin said the Government’s priority was selling a message, not delivering on services.