Gloves off in Leinster House as TDs look to the voters for approval

Government rounds on Sinn Féin as it defends its record to date

The gloves are well and truly off in the political cauldron that is pre-election Leinster House.

The dying days of the 31st Dáil are being marked by bitter exchanges, as the Government and the Opposition look to the voters for approval.

Sinn Féin took the brunt of the Government’s ire yesterday, as it defended its record.

Fine Gael's putative emperor struck back at his critics. Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, viewed as a possible future leader, was clearly stung by criticism of his tenure in a department so aptly referred to as "Angola'' by Brian Cowen.

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Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris had claimed it had reached the stage in every constituency where people were afraid to attend emergency departments. "Who could blame them ?" he asked.

Rounding on Sinn Féin, Varadkar said its policy was almost childlike, promising to spend an extra €5 billion in health and billions on education and housing.

“I am sure it could fund everything if it raised taxes to the highest they have ever been in this country,’’ he added. “Even if it robbed a bank, it would never pay for it all.’’

This was followed by High Noon in the House, the Thursday showdown between Tánaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton and Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.

McDonald was scathing about the Government’s record on childcare. “To add insult to injury, the Tánaiste this morning announced an uncosted back-of-the-envelope election gimmick in an attempt to curry favour with the very families her party has failed over the past five years,’’ said McDonald.

Broken promises

She asked how anybody could believe anything Burton had to say, given she had brazenly broken promises her party had made.

"Will Deputy McDonald tell me why anybody would believe Sinn Féin when Gerry Adams does not even know whether he is the leader of the IRA but does know Slab Murphy is a good republican ?,'' replied Burton. "Just tell me that, deputy.''

McDonald’s colleague Sandra McLellan asked the Tánaiste what her remark had to do with childcare.

Burton was in full flight. “Let me tell you, deputy, the moral integrity of people has a great deal to do with childcare and the question of whose care our children should be put in,’’ she said. “Gerry Adams is a man who cannot even fess up in regard to what happened with certain murders, but Deputy McDonald is asking us to trust her party.’’

Later, during a debate on the constitutional convention reports, Fianna Fáil TD Seán Ó Fearghaíl noted the current Dáil was coming to "an agonising close''.

That agony, mixed with all-out political war, will continue until the last vote is counted, probably at the end of February.