Taoiseach rejects claim of ‘political stroke’ over development plans

Varadkar claims SF and Labour engaging in ‘opposition for opposition’s sake’

Leo Varadkar: he said “the sad thing about this is the extent to which politicians from the Opposition have wrapped themselves in process and procedure”

Leo Varadkar: he said “the sad thing about this is the extent to which politicians from the Opposition have wrapped themselves in process and procedure”

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected claims that the Government is engaged in a “political stroke” with the early launch of development plans for the State for the next 20 years.

The Opposition called on Mr Varadkar to delay the publication of the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan to allow the Dáil and Seanad to vote on it. However, the Taoiseach insisted the Oireachtas did not have to approve the plans.

The development proposals, which set out the Government’s plans for the State over the next two decades,will be launched on Friday in Sligo.

Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty accused the Taoiseach of pulling a political stroke in publishing the draft framework to avoid scrutiny by the Oireachtas.

There were heated exchanges in the Dáil and repeated interruptions, which prompted Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghaíl to warn TDs they were bringing the House into disrepute.

Legislation currently before the Seanad would require Dáil and Seanad approval of the plans. In the Seanad on Wednesday voting on the provision was postponed until next week.

Mr Doherty claimed the Government wanted to avoid a vote and keep the confidence and supply agreement in place with Fianna Fáil, who could then say they had nothing to do with the plans.

Statutory footing

However, the Taoiseach rounded on the Opposition and claimed it was a “classic case of opposition for opposition’s sake” and “political parties opposing a plan they haven’t even seen yet”.

Mr Varadkar said “the National Planning Framework will automatically go on a statutory footing as a consequence of the fact that the draft motion was adopted in November”.

When Mr Doherty said the legislation had to be approved by the House, Mr Varadkar said the “draft plan” – and he spelt it out “d-r-a-f-t” – had to be approved by the House, and that the Government would have “regard” to the views of the House. He said the draft plan was approved last November.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin claimed the plan had been changed by “Ministers with the sharpest elbows” for their own constituency interests.

And he said “resolutions of this House are meaningless” when “ the laws we enact are completely undermined”.

Mr Howlin accused the Taoiseach of “ignoring the three-year programme of successive governments to ensure this plan is not properly debated in the Dáil before it is published”.

Mr Varadkar said “the sad thing about this is the extent to which politicians from the Opposition have wrapped themselves in process and procedure”.

The Taoiseach said the legislation being debated had not been passed by the Seanad or signed by the President “so it is not the law”.

Ambition

He said the Opposition should look to the ambition of the plan that 200,000 more people would be living in rural Ireland by 2040, with other cities, including Cork and Galway, growing at twice the rate of the capital, and that Dublin would be “growing up rather than out”.

Separately, Labour TD Alan Kelly, Fianna Fáil TD Eamon O’Cuív, Sinn Féin TD Eoin O’Broin and Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice met with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to outline their concerns that democratic scrutiny was being avoided.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Kelly said the plan would be based on “a dubious legal basis, and would be subject to legal challenge”.

“The Government has corrupted the process by its actions and engaging in skulduggery, launching something before the legislation is passed.”

The National Planning Framework is an overarching plan for investment and development intended to promote the growth of cities such as Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway as a counterbalance to the growth of Dublin in recent years.

The National Development Plan is the capital side of that project, and will outline where infrastructure investment will take place.

Legislation governing the National Planning Framework says the draft or revised plan will be put before the House for its approval before it is published. However, it has not passed through both Houses and is currently in the Seanad.