Government has ‘no written deals’ with Michael Lowry and Sean Canney

The Taoiseach has said Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Sean Canney have no written deals with the Government but do have access when needed.

Responding to questions in the Dáil, Leo Varadkar insisted there are no written or formal agreements with Mr Lowry, an ex-Fine Gael minister, and Mr Canney, who recently left the Independent Alliance.

Replying to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, Mr Varadkar said there is a commitment in the confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil to publish any written agreements.

“There are no written agreements [with Independents] and therefore none to be published.

“While there is no agreement or special deal with deputies Lowry or Canney, they do support the Programme for Government, which they believe benefits the country and their constituencies,” he said.

“They generally vote with the Government although they do not always vote in all divisions. They do of course have access to the Government in the same way all Independent deputies who support the Government do. That means they are able to raise queries and issues, often relating to their constituency, on which we try to assist,” he added.

“So there is a deal?” declared Mr Martin.

Mr Varadkar, however, sought to attack Fianna Fáil’s previous deals with various Independents like Mr Lowry and the late Kerry TD, Jackie Healy Rae.

“I noted Deputy Micheál Martin’s remark about precedents which I do not think is quite correct.

“I recall that the deputy was a minister in a government that had written agreements with Independent deputies, but did not publish those agreements on the basis that they were not agreements with the government but with Fianna Fáil and therefore did not need to be published or released under Freedom of Information, FoI.”

He said: “I assure the deputy that there is no private or secret written agreement with me in my capacity as leader of Fine Gael that I am somehow concealing in the way Fianna Fáil did in the past.

 “There is no written agreement with the Government or Fine Gael. Were there a written agreement I would, of course, publish it.”

“The deputy referred to something being unprecedented. The precedent was a very strange one — a private written agreement between a Fianna Fáil government and Independent deputies which was not published nor released under FoI on the basis that it was an agreement with Fianna Fáil and not with the government.

“I assure the Ceann Comhairle that I would not engage in that sort of skulduggery. There is no such agreement of either nature.”

The Taoiseach said access to Government “does not constitute a deal”.

Mr Martin replied sharply by saying: “Of course it does.”

In terms of confidence and supply, Mr Varadkar said there has not been any discussion on renewing the deal, at this stage.

“I have expressed my opinion that, as is the case with any agreement, it should not just drop dead one day. If it is going to be extended, it should be extended in advance in the same way as we would renew a contract or pay agreement in advance, for example. Governments cannot operate if they are on borrowed time.”

The Taoiseach was speaking after Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said she would like to see the confidence and supply deal extended by two years. She called on Fianna Fáil to enter talks in the summer, ahead of the Budget.

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