Varadkar says he has apologised to Martin over Zappone controversy

Tánaiste says economy is ahead of predictions due to ‘huge return’ to employment

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has admitted Fine Gael ‘has not been at its best’ over the last number of weeks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has admitted Fine Gael ‘has not been at its best’ over the last number of weeks. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has apologised to the Taoiseach over the Katherine Zappone controversy.

Ahead of his speech at the Fine Gael think-in in Co Meath, the party leader accepted he and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney bore responsibility for its poor performance in recent months.

Talking to members of his parliamentary party and grassroots members over the summer “a lot of them are disappointed and not happy at the fact that Fine Gael has not been at its best, most competent and sharpest for the last couple of weeks and couple of months,” he said.

In relation to the Zappone controversy, Mr Varadkar said he has since apologised to Taoiseach Micheál Martin for not flagging at the time her appointment as a special envoy.

Coalition governments have to be based on “good faith and no surprises”, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“I should have seen the potential political sensitivities in this appointment .. I should have seen that, I didn’t and I have to take responsibility for that. I’ve spoken to the Taoiseach about it.”

On text messages that were wiped between Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney related to the controversy, the Tánaiste said there was need to “do a review and a refresh” of the Freedom of Information Act.

“I think that will be absolutely the right thing to do.”

Economy

Speaking about the economy, Mr Varadkar said he was “even more convinced” than he was in June, when he said he expects it to “take off like a rocket”.

Over the last couple of months, there has been a “huge return” to employment, “very good” exchequer figures and taxes coming in.

“We are actually ahead of where we thought we should be at this point in the economic cycle,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said the plan was to eliminate borrowing for anything other than for capital expenditure infrastructure including housing and new hospitals, which would still allow for an annual €500 million tax package and increased spending of €1 billion.

The Tánaiste said he was adamant he wanted to see a welfare package in the upcoming budget for pensioners and people on fixed incomes because the cost of living was rising.

Their standard of living would fall without any such hikes, he added.

Government would also be making savings by the scaling back of Covid pandemic supports.

However, he said Fine Gael had agreed that the Employment Wage Support Subsidy should not be phased out “too quickly”.

While similar furlough supports in the North and Britain are ending next month “we think that is a mistake, we want it to continue into next year,” he said, adding that the likes of the hospitality industry are still not operating at full capacity.

Festival

On his being photographed at a festival in London last week, Mr Varadkar said: “It wasn’t a very flattering photo. If the shoe was on the other foot, it is not a photograph I would have posted of someone else. But I am a public figure, and to a certain extent it goes with the territory.”

Mr Varadkar’s partner Matt Barrett wrote a letter to The Irish Times about the privacy issues around the photograph being published in some media.

“Matti s very much his own person I guarantee you and he is able to write letters without my permission,” said Mr Varadkar.

“I’ve been through a lot of these types of things and I don’t let it hold me back.”

Mr Varadkar was criticised for attending the Mighty Hoopla event, especially by those in the Irish entertainment industry affected by Covid-19 restrictions over the last 18 months.

The Tánaiste said he took the view that concerts and major events were being allowed in Ireland two days after the London festival but that he understood the views of those in industries shut down for a year and a half.

Mr Varadkar also vowed to lead Fine Gael into the next election.