Labour leader Brendan Howlin has accused Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar of using the race to replace Taoiseach Enda Kenny to “drag the country further to the right”.

His comments came as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin downplayed but did not rule out suggestions both FF and FG could form a future coalition, saying it is “far too early to be talking about options like that”.

Speaking during a live TV keynote speech at Labour’s annual conference in Wexford over the weekend, his first as party leader, Mr Howlin took aim at the “do nothing” Government as a whole, saying the “rag-bag” coalition is failing the public by continuing to insist on its “austerity fetish”.

And he was particularly scathing of Housing Minister Mr Coveney and Social Protection Minister Mr Varadkar, whom he shared a cabinet table with just a year ago, saying both are failing those who are depending on them to improve the country.

“This is a sham of a Government — Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and a rag-bag of Independents who show no ambition. And they seem quite content about it.

“Leo and Simon square up to each other, playing to their base, dragging the country further to the right. Running a false election based on tax cuts and shutting down Bus Éireann. 

"Dog whistles to their supporters on the right. Meanwhile, Enda [Kenny] and Micheál [Martin] are content to play for time. It means that Government begins to do actual harm.

“On the economy, we have a single party, right-wing Fine Gael Government — even [business group] IBEC say the Government has an austerity fetish. After everything we’ve gone through over the last 10 years, we are entitled to better,” he said.

Mr Howlin also took aim at rival left-wing opposition parties, saying their solutions “would only make things worse”.

“Brexit happened, Trump happened, and Le Pen might happen. People are voting, in large part, out of fear and out of hurt. There are many people, too many, happy to prey on these fears. We have our own. Less extreme, perhaps, but who will say anything to make people afraid.”

In a number of media appearances in recent days Mr Howlin specifically said his party is willing to speak with “everybody” after the next election, and strongly hinted that Fianna Fáil may be his preferred option as its “chameleon” character makes it easier to do business with.

However, while not ruling out the prospect when asked about the possibility at the Arbour Hill Easter Rising commemoration in Dublin, Mr Martin said it is too soon to discuss coalition deals.

“I get on well with Brendan all the time you know, but this is early days yet.

“Certainly we’ve shown in this Dáil that we’re open and constructive and certainly we’re prepared to work with the Labour party on common issues, but certainly as I’ve said it’s far too early to be talking about coalition options like that,” he said.

The Labour conference also saw SIPTU president Jack O’Connor appointed chair of the party in a bid to copper-fasten its ties with the official trade union movement amid ongoing threats from other rising left-wing parties.


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