Leo Varadkar and Michael McGrath row over water charge claims

Two potential future leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were at loggerheads yesterday over “self-serving” comments on water charges.

As talks edged to an agreement yesterday, a row broke out between the parties over comments made by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

He was accused of making “self-serving” comments by Michael McGrath after he said it was “ridiculous” and “surreal” that Fianna Fáil had almost caused a second election on the issue of Irish Water.

“The fact that they went to the wire and threatened an election and threatened not to facilitate a new government on water, I think, is ridiculous,” said Mr Varadkar.

He said Fine Gael still believes water charges should be retained and would be fighting for this in the Dáil, despite the fact the party agreed to suspend charges as part of a deal with Fianna Fáil.

Mr McGrath, who is part of Fianna Fáil’s negotiating team, accused Mr Varadkar of acting purely in his own political interest.

He claimed Fine Gael is experiencing internal upheaval and that Mr Varadkar, in making the statements, may have been positioning himself for a future leadership bid.

“Mr Varadkar’s comments were deeply unhelpful, inaccurate, misleading, and self-serving,” said Mr McGrath.

“The reality here is it has taken two weeks of talks with Fine Gael for them to accept the principal that the question of water charges would ultimately be decided by the democratically elected TDs of Dáil Éireann.

“It does beg the question, does somebody who makes comments like that while negotiations are under way really want to achieve an agreement?

“It does raise the question as to what’s really going on there in the background with Fine Gael. I think the comments are certainly in the context of what’s going on internally with Fine Gael, that’s clearly our view of the issue.”

Speaking on RTÉ radio, Mr Varadkar said Fianna Fáil could have chosen any number of issues to focus on, adding that he found the concentration on Irish Water “quite frankly, to be a bit surreal”.

“It was all down to water charges that cost €3 a week and the worst thing is — and you know water charges are being suspended, they are not being abolished — but it’s the wrong thing to do,” said Mr Varadkar. “It’s not in the public interest to do this.”

Although both negotiation teams were said to be in “constant contact”, with papers exchanged throughout the day yesterday, much of the attention was focused on Mr Varadkar’s comments.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher tweeted: “If Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael deal is so ridiculous Minister Varadkar will surely request not to be appointed to government, otherwise his hypocrisy scales new heights.”

Mr Varadkar reiterated his comments yesterday: “There were a lot of issues in the election two months ago and certainly my experience was that water was an issue but it certainly wasn’t the biggest one on the doors.”

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