Labour’s leadership candidates have clashed on cutting a post-election deal with Sinn Féin, as Joan Burton accused Gerry Adams’s party of still being in a "nexus" with the IRA.
Alex White countered by saying that while he “abhorred” Sinn Féin’s policies and past, he would not treat them as “untouchables” in the corner.
In the most heated exchanges of the first hustings of the battle to be tánaiste, Ms Burton said she believed there was “still a Sinn Fein/IRA nexus” and Labour should not “make up the numbers” for them in a future government.
The candidates also divided over the longevity of the Coalition, with Mr White saying he could not guarantee staying in power with Fine Gael, while Ms Burton said she wanted to use the two budgets left in the term of office to build on the economic recovery.
How to deal with the EU was also a flash point as Ms Burton called for a tough new approach in negotiations to finally win a bank debt settlement, while Mr White again insisted Ireland could flout its bailout deficit commitments if it meant an easier budget in October.
Ms Burton, who has committed herself to the deficit target, told some 250 delegates in Dublin: “I intend to press our case, through skilled negotiation rather than careless confrontation.”
Mr White insisted deficit rules could be broken.
“There can be no question of an adjustment of the order of €2bn next year,” he said. “We have an agreed target of reducing the deficit below 3% in 2015 but if we were to miss that deadline marginally or by a few months, so be it.”
However, as primary care minister responsible for the widespread withdrawal of medical cards, the South Dublin TD took hits from deputy leadership candidates vying for votes.
Though Mr White was not mentioned by name, Ciara Conway expressed concern about the “medical card fiasco”, and Alan Kelly singled the issue out as a failure of the party’s time in Government, along with the timing of water-metering pricing ahead of the local elections and the various Alan Shatter controversies.
Michael McCarthy said Labour could not be seen as merely making up the numbers” in the Coalition, as fellow Cork TD and junior science minister Seán Sherlock criticised the party’s communications effort, and the fact it did not realise the full social implications of the bailout it signed up to.
Labour members have started voting in the contests, the results of which will be announced on July 4, following further hustings in Galway, Cork, Portlaoise, and south Dublin.
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