Varadkar: ‘Imagine what we could have done with a majority’

Taoiseach’s comments come as Fine Gael begin confidence-and-supply talks with Fianna Fáil

Leo Varadkar:  “An element of anti-Traveller sentiment” behind at least  some of the vote received by Peter Casey.  Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

Leo Varadkar: “An element of anti-Traveller sentiment” behind at least some of the vote received by Peter Casey. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times.

 

Fine Gael could have achieved greater success if it had a majority Government, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has suggested.

Mr Varadkar’s remarks came at Dublin Castle on Saturday evening, ahead of the announcement of President Michael D Higgins’s re-election. Negotiations are under way concerning the confidence-and-supply agreement with Fianna Fáil. The Taoiseach said his party has done a lot for “people who get up early in the morning”.

Asked on RTÉ’s Six One News if he had any appetite for an election and seeking a Dáil majority, the Taoiseach chose to list Fine Gael’s achievements in Government in reply.

“I’ve been head of a Government and part of a Government for the past three years that has been the party for people who get up early in the morning, the party for middle Ireland.

“We’ve done a lot for middle Ireland, whether it’s full employment, increasing the minimum wage, new benefits for the self-employed, affordable childcare, cuts in income tax and USC (Universal Social Charge).

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“We did that with 25 per cent of the vote and a minority Government. Imagine what we could do with a majority.”

On Thursday Fine Gael began the delicate process of negotiations with Fianna Fáil. This is a possible extension to the confidence and supply agreement which underpins the minority government.

Fianna Fáil is insisting the operation of confidence and supply since it was first struck in May 2016 must be reviewed, while Fine Gael is keen to move to the renegotiation of an extension as quickly as possible.

Speaking later, Mr Varadkar said there was “an element of anti-Traveller sentiment” behind at least some of the vote received by Peter Casey.

“It is not something I can condone,” he said.

Voters backed the second-placed candidate for other reasons also, he said. But he still received support from less than a quarter of those who voted on Friday.

Praising the “historic” scale of President Michael D Higgins’s victory, the Taoiseach said he had topped the poll in every constituency in the State and would come close to receiving one million first-preference votes.

The Casey result, he forecast, will lead to the opening of a dialogue on the situation facing Travellers, pointing to the “huge amount of educational disadvantage” faced by many in the Travelling community.

Saying that politicians would have to reflect on the Casey vote, Mr Varadkar said there is a “small part of every community who do wrong”. But it is wrong to tar everyone in a community with the same brush.

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