Tánaiste Micheál Martin has again outlined his personal antipathy to a possible future political arrangement with Sinn Féin, saying there is a “huge incompatibility” between both parties in outlook on enterprise culture, climate and Europe as well as Northern Ireland legacy issues.
He also said he wanted to caution against what he saw as a prevailing view in the media that Sinn Féin would have a “slam dunk” victory in the next general election, arguing the electoral outcome was still “wide open”.
Speaking in advance of his party’s parliamentary party meeting in Horse and Jockey, Co Tipperary, Mr Martin said: “There’s a huge incompatibility, the most important one in my view being the enterprise economy, which I believe Sinn Féin would undermine. If any headwinds came at all, economically, Sinn Féin would reach for the tax weapon as the way out of a crisis. I think they’re anti-enterprise.”
He claimed Sinn Féin was against the entrepreneurial culture that was central to the economic development of the State over decades.
He said Sinn Féin had been anti-European in outlook and he indicated its record in the European Parliament on agriculture and new trends in the development of the EU.
“On the climate agenda, they have been partially two-faced on that and lacking any genuine commitment in relation to it. And they’ve sought to play politics with it over the last three years of this Dáil term,” he said.
“There’s the fundamental issue of legacy campaigns. We don’t have a difficulty with some of the issues in terms of public inquiries into atrocities committed by state forces during The Troubles. They have been very slow to bring closure to many victims of Provisional IRA violence.”
He referred to the recent documentary into the abduction and murder by the IRA of the German businessman Thomas Niedermayer in Belfast in the mid 1970s. “It reminds us of the need for Sinn Féin not to triumphalise the horrible deeds that the [IRA] did,” he said.
Mr Martin said politics had become increasingly fragmented in Ireland and said there were now three large parties that were close to each other in terms of numbers.
He urged the media to consider its commentary. which, he said, reminded him a lot of the predictions in advance of the 2016 general election.
“Everybody was convinced it was going in one direction, and it didn’t go in that direction. I just think that those who are commentating on this really need to reflect a bit more and be a bit more cautious.
He argued the media needed to “stop cheerleading [Sinn Féin] along as if it’s a slam dunk. It’s not. It’s very fragmented. The options are very wide.”
When asked, Mr Martin also insisted this was not his last September parliamentary party meeting as leader and said it was his intention to lead the party into the next general election.
Asked in Belfast on Monday about Mr Martin’s remarks, Leo Varadkar told reporters: “I certainly agree with the Tánaiste on that.”
Asked whether young people were being “infected” by Sinn Féin’s rhetoric about the Troubles, Mr Varadkar said: “I think we need as a country to have an honest appraisal about what happened in the past. I don’t think it’s ever right to whitewash history or to glorify things that happened in the past … And that doesn’t just apply to Sinn Féin. That applies broadly.”
A large number of farmers, most from the dairy sector and the sheep sector, held a protest outside the hotel in Tipperary in which the Fianna Fáil think-in was being held.
When Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue came out to talk to the delegation, Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) president Tim Cullinan refused to speak to him, saying he wanted to speak to Mr Martin. The Tánaiste then came out from the venue and, in a brief exchange, agreed to hold a meeting with Mr Cullinan and an IFA delegation, which was held at noon.
The basis of the protest was the European Commission decision not to extend a derogation allowing some dairy farmers and a small number of beef farmers to spread 250kg of nitrates per hectare, reducing the upper limit to 220kg. This will result in those farmers having to reduce their herds or acquire more land to retain the herd numbers.
The Commission referred to reports from the Environmental Protection Agency that show that half of Ireland’s rivers and lakes are polluted and that run-off from farms using organic fertilisers has been a big contributory cause to that pollution.
Asked about the meeting, Mr Martin said it had been constructive. “The dairy industry, in particular, will bear the brunt of the decision by the Commission.”
He said that the Government would look to see what could be done to alleviate pressure on farmers affected by the decision.
He said there was a clear challenge in terms of water quality. He said the Government would be working to retain the derogation at 220kg when the next review happens in 2026. He said that would need the State to ensure water quality was at an acceptable level.”
Mr Martin said the Government’s priorities were to tackle cost-of-living issues for people in the autumn and to make progress on health, housing and education. He also said the extreme weather events of the summer had underlined the importance of “future-proofing” the country through capital investment in climate-facing infrastructure to ensure a future for young people.
Turning to the priorities of his own party, Mr Martin said his first priority was the local and European elections next year.
Of the local elections he said: “We have to do two things. The first is to try to maintain the position we have with the number of seats but also to add newer candidates as well. That’s how a party stays healthy and sustainable.”
The party meeting will discuss election preparations on Friday.
Already three high-profile figures in the party – Offaly TD Barry Cowen, Senator Lisa Chambers from Mayo, and Senator Niall Blaney from Donegal – have expressed interest in contesting the Midland North West European constituency. The party has no MEP in that constituency.