Varadkar, Coveney accused of using ‘potentially fake statistics’

Micheál Martin claims social protection fraud overstated by 1,000%, housing by 100%

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin  claimed Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar had launched a national campaign on welfare fraud which overstated savings by more than 1,000 per cent. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin claimed Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar had launched a national campaign on welfare fraud which overstated savings by more than 1,000 per cent. File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused two senior Fine Gael Ministers of “promoting misleading and potentially fake statistics”.

Mr Martin claimed Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar had launched a national campaign on welfare fraud which overstated savings by more than 1,000 per cent.

He said Minister for Housing Simon Coveney “has been promoting his record on the basis of a claim on new builds which inflates the true figure by 100 per cent”.

‘Enhance their profiles’

In reference to the two Ministers’ ambitions for the leadership of Fine Gael, Mr Martin said “clearly those Ministers are actively trying to promote their images and enhance their profiles”.

He added this type of behaviour had been seen elsewhere, citing Budget 2017, when in the hours before it was announced, “€300 million suddenly appeared - in spite of the insistence of Ministers that they had been fully transparent with the figures”.

He said: “One can only conclude that Ministers are deliberately using misleading and untrue statistics, or they are failing to check their figures before issuing their various press releases.”

He asked Taoiseach Enda Kenny whether he had taken any action “to stop this growing habit of making misleading false claims about official statistics”.

Mr Kenny said the Department of Social Protection estimated savings from fraud and control, not just fraud. Control measures are used to minimise overpayment either through error or fraud.

“It was based on a model developed with the CSO (Central Statistics Office) and also used in Australia as well as other OECD countries,” the Taoiseach said.

‘Come off it’

Mr Martin insisted “it stated fraud”. Mr Varadkar intervened and said “it was control and fraud”, but the Fianna Fáil leader rounded on him: “Come off it, Minister. You were caught out.”

Mr Martin said the Minister stated that €500 million was saved on fraud. “That was far ahead of any of the real figures.”

When the Fianna Fáil leader hit out at the figures given on housing, Mr Kenny told him that even under former governments of which Mr Martin was a member, house-builds were always determined on new ESB house connections.

He added that the Minister “will take note of the CSO figures”.

Mr Kenny said the CSO was an independent national institute, and that the Taoiseach and Minister of State at the Department of An Taoiseach, Regina Doherty, had no role in the exercise of its functions.