Martin describes Varadkar as 'prickly' with 'authoritarian streak' after media remarks

By David Raleigh

Tensions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have soared to heatwave proportions after Micheál Martin described his coalition partner Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a “prickly” man “with an authoritarian streak”.

The Fianna Fáil leader made his comments when asked on a visit to Limerick for his reaction to alleged remarks by the Taoiseach at a private gathering in New York in which he suggested he sympathised with Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and that there were too many journalists in Leinster House concentrating on gossip rather than matters in the public interest.

The Taoiseach also allegedly made reference to the accuracy of investigative journalism in Ireland and cited RTÉ's 'Prime Time Investigates' 'Mission to Prey' programme.

Mr Martin said he agreed that “people can be critical of the media - but when Leo Varadkar said he sympathises with Donald Trump's position on the media, I drew a deep breath on that”.

“I said hang on a second, some of the attacks of Donald Trump on the media have been unacceptable, in my opinion."

Mr Martin accused the Taoiseach of being relentless in leaking information to journalists in Leinster House.

"Leo Varadkar has (always) fed off the Irish media. I would have thought most people would say he got very beneficial media treatment for the last 12 months.”

“He has used the Irish media (and) he would have been notorious as a leaker, providing information to the journalists who he now accuses of being gossipers around Leinster house.”

Mr Martin continued: "I mean to say, he was on first name terms with them all, and he has turned on them at a private gathering in New York."

"And then, for some reason he had a pop at RTE Investigates…some of the more recent RTE Investigates programmes have been very effective in terms of health (scandals)."

Mr Martin said he believed the Taoiseach is annoyed with coverage of the health service following his previous tenure as Health Minister prior to becoming Taoiseach.

"Maybe that’s annoyed him, the programmes on scoliosis for example. There is no doubt that there wouldn't have been the same reaction by the Minister for Health to the scoliosis crisis among children, if it wasn't for the RTE Investigates programme. Maybe that’s annoying (the Taoiseach).”

In a surprising personal attack on the Taoiseach, Mr Martin added: “He does have a prickly nature, and he does have an authoritarian streak, where he doesn't like criticism; he's very sensitive to it."

Asked if he would be up to the job of knocking the “authoritarian streak” out of the Toaiseach, Mr Martin laughed and replied: “Yes”.

Mr Martin said he was “committed” to the confidence and supply arrangement between the coalition partners.

He accused the Taoiseach and Fine Gael of “fanning the flames” of speculation over a possible date for the next general election.

He added he still had to sit down with Mr Varadkar to thrash out negotiations ahead of the Budget, before the confidence and supply arrangement was up for review.

"There are major issues surrounding housing and health, if we are honest. I don't think anyone can deny that the government are not demonstrating a capacity to deal with these issues. The issues are running away from government.”

In response, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said: “The Taoiseach dealt with this matter comprehensively in the Dail yesterday.”

Here is the full transcript of the Taoiseach's comments to the Dáil yesterday:

    “I strongly believe that the free press is essential for democracy to function.”

    “It is important and essential work and in a free society and a democracy is as important as the parliamentary or courts system.”

    “That is why I personally support and the Government supports the work of the news media and I always try to be as accessible and open with the media as I can be.”

    “Sometimes there are tensions between the Government and media but that is as it should be.”

    “I read the story in the paper today and I profoundly regret if anyone in the country thinks that in any way I do not support a free press or respect the work of journalists.”

    “A free, fair and balanced media is a cornerstone of democracy and our freedoms and that is why it is so important.”“At the same time, it should not consider itself to be beyond reproach or above criticism.”

    “On many occasions in Irish society, we have had times where groups of people or institutions felt themselves to be beyond reproach or above criticism and we know what the results and consequences of that were.”

    “This was a private event. It was a two hour lunch. It was done at my request because I wanted to sit down with young Irish people living in New York, to have an exchange of views with them and to hear what their thoughts were on the situation in America and in Ireland.”

    “I would like to be able to respect the privacy of that event but that is not possible now. There is no record of it. There was no speech given.”

    “It was a back and forth conversation involving about 15 or 20 people, covering a whole range of topics from Brexit to the United Nations, Russia and so many other things.”

    “There was a conversation about social media and fake news and it developed from there. I said a lot of positive things about the media internationally and in Ireland in particular I acknowledged the role of investigative journalism in bringing about social change.”

    “I acknowledged the example of that in the MeToo movement, the exposure of Harvey Weinstein and we talked about the role of personal stories as evidenced in the media and how important that was in our last two referendum campaigns on abortion and marriage equality.”

    “I also said that I thought I got a fair hearing from the media in general and I do and I said that because of the proliferation in the number of media outlets and journalists, that journalists were under a lot of pressure to produce stories, much more so than would have been the case in the past when there was a smaller number of journalists and news programmes, but of course none of that was reported.”

    “My only reference to RTÉ was in response to somebody challenging me when I said that investigative journalism was not always true and the only reference I made to RTÉ "Prime Time Investigates" was specifically on the issue of the "Mission to Prey", programme when false allegations against a priest fathering a child in Africa were broadcast and should not have been broadcast. Obviously that has been dealt with since.”


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