Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil row over which party is closer to Sinn Féin

Tit-for-tat exchanges as Tánaiste appeals for same community activism on water as during snow

Mary Lou McDonald paraphrased the Oscar Wilde quote that the only thing worse than ‘people talking about you is people not talking about you’. File photograph: Alan Betson

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin engaged in tit-for-tat exchanges in the Dáil over who was electorally closer to Sinn Féin, each saying the other was.

Mr Martin had quipped that the Tánaiste was “somewhat lacking in gratitude to the leader of Sinn Féin” when Mr Coveney had earlier sharply criticised Mary Lou McDonald’s party about its policy in relation to water.

The Fianna Fáil leader said Mr Coveney had forgotten to mention the “strong electoral alliance between your party and Sinn Féin as manifested in Sinn Féin in its entirety voting for Senator Anthony Lawlor”, Fine Gael’s candidate in the recent Seanad by elections.

Mr Martin described it as “the most striking electoral alliance in the House this year”.


And in a swipe at Sinn Féin itself Mr Martin referred to Sinn Féin’s “enthusiastic support for the Judicial Appointments Bill given Sinn Féin’s great relationship with the judiciary over the years. It’s quite revealing that they are strongly aligned with the Government side”.

Mr Coveney retorted: “I’m glad that when you talk about the potential coalition between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin you say it with a smile on your face.

“The reality is that Fianna Fáil has voted a lot more regularly with Sinn Féin than Fine Gael has in this House.”

Ms McDonald paraphrased the Oscar Wilde quote that the only thing worse than “people talking about you is people not talking about you”.

She said to Mr Coveney: “Tánaiste, welcome back, I can see that you’re jetlagged”, in reference to Mr Coveney’s trip to the UN in New York. She added: “I’m not sure about the sun stroke.”

‘Nobody blaming householders’

The Tánaiste had been criticising Sinn Féin's policy on water as he rejected claims from People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett that the Government was blaming householders for the water shortages.

Mr Boyd Barrett said the Government was cutting the capital investment fund which was supposed to sort the water infrastructure, and instead blaming the public for difficulties in water supply.

But the Tánaiste said “nobody is blaming householders”.

“We are asking the country to respond in a way that they did during other extreme weather circumstances earlier in the year when communities came together and supported each other.

“And they should be doing that now as well to ensure that neighbours take other neighbours into account in how they use water over the coming weeks.”

Mr Boyd Barrett criticised as “pathetic” that Irish Water planned to reduce water leakage rates from the current 45 per cent to 38 per cent by 2021.

“Every day householders use 300 million litres of water but 700 million litres leak out of the system.

Things had improvement slightly since the Government “abandoned the wild goose chase of water meters”.

The €250 million a year that went into water meters “that don’t fix leaks has been redirected into upping the infrastructure”. And he said that Irish Water told an Oireachtas committee it needed €18 billion for infrastructure.

But the Tánaiste said that “for the first time we have a proper, coherent, organised, funded plan to fix Ireland’s water infrastructure once and for all”.

He thanked Irish Water for the work they were doing in very difficult circumstances.

They had a plan to deal with shortages in Dublin which could not have been dealt with by Dublin local authorities but would require a national approach to bring water from the Shannon to the eastern part of the country and the capital in particular.

Mr Coveney in turn accused Mr Boyd Barrett of wanting to localise everything, “which resulted in leaks all over the country and the inability to coordinate between counties and nationally”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times