Varadkar warns FG Ministers to expect stronger FF attacks
Eoghan Murphy labelled ‘elitist’ but criticises ‘useless’ contribution by FF’s Darragh O’Brien
Allan Stevenson (right) joined other DCU students on Tuesday protesting outside the Dáil over rising rental costs for student accommodation in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told his Fine Gael Ministers to be ready for increased Fianna Fáil attacks in the months ahead as the confidence-and-supply agreement comes to an end.
Mr Varadkar’s comments to a meeting of his senior and junior Ministers came after the recent reshuffle of the Fianna Fáil frontbench and a number of controversial statements from Micheál Martin’s senior TDs.
The latest saw Darragh O’Brien, the new Fianna Fáil housing spokesman, claim the “elitist” and “cosseted” backgrounds of Mr Varadkar and Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy prevented them from sympathising with people affected by the housing crisis.
It drew an angry response from Mr Murphy, who said of Mr O’Brien’s comments: “I couldn’t think of a more useless contribution to the national debate on housing and homelessness.
“The Government has the responsibility to fix this, and we are fixing this. Fianna Fáil’s only experience in housing has been to break things. To break our housing sector, to break our construction industry and to break our economy.”
He also accused Fianna Fáil of attempting to undermine the confidence-and-supply deal underpinning the minority government.
“What is happening here is very obvious. Fianna Fáil are trying to undermine the confidence-and-supply agreement. We have had a number of their frontbench spokespeople come out and say they don’t want to extend the confidence-and-supply agreement, about not even being sure if we can make it to the budget.”
Mr Murphy was speaking after the Cabinet approved a series of measures to increase protections for tenants. These include a plan for so-called “rent transparency” which would see the average rent paid in certain areas detailed by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).
Another move will make it a criminal offence for landlords to increase rents in so-called “rent pressure zones” above the 4 per cent allowed annually. The RTB will be given the power to prosecute landlords who increase rents above the 4 per cent threshold.
Notice periods for tenants will also increase. However, this will vary depending on the length of time a tenant has occupied the property.
‘Upping the ante’
Mr Varadkar “effectively said it was clear that Fianna Fáil are upping the ante”, said one Minister who was present at Monday’s meeting.
Another said: “He said he expected Fianna Fáil to be in a different mode this term.”
Mr Varadkar also repeated he is strongly opposed to coalition between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin and, according to sources, “discouraged” such speculation “in no uncertain terms”.
Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly, who was at Monday’s meeting, recently said he had no “ideological objection” to sharing power with Sinn Féin.
“He said we won’t be having any more of it,” another source said of Mr Varadkar’s warning.
Also yesterday, Mr Murphy repeated that Fine Gael wants to extend the confidence-and-supply deal, which effectively concludes after the October budget. Mr Martin says this includes the passage of the finance and social welfare Bills which give effect to budgetary measures.
The deal commits Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to reviewing “this framework agreement at the end of 2018”. Sources within Fine Gael now accept the review will not happen until after the budget.
Senior figures previously wanted to open talks before the Dáil summer recess, but Mr Martin has repeatedly rejected anything taking place before the budget.
Mr O’Brien said he stands over his criticisms of Mr Varadkar and Mr Murphy, which he insists were not personal.
He added he was “at pains” to make it clear his comments focused on the issues around the housing crisis.
“I won’t be silent when I see failure in government,” he said. He said that, as an Opposition spokesman, he would be not doing his duty if he did point out such failures.
The Dublin Fingal TD said he wants to talk about the issues around the housing crisis and that political spats should not distract from the substantive issue.