Leo Varadkar lets loose to leave talks on the line

Leo Varadkar clearly had his Weetabix yesterday. While he took to the airwaves to welcome the granting of planning permission for the new children’s hospital, Varadkar let fly at Fianna Fáil for pushing the country to the brink of another election over water charges.

The temerity of them.

Mr Varadkar, taking a leaf out of the book of Alan ‘I am not angry’ Kelly, vented his fury at the deal, which will see water charges suspended for at least nine months, but in reality for much longer.

He said suspending water charges was the wrong thing to do and was not in the public interest.

He revealed that he found Fianna Fáil’s focus on Irish Water during government negotiations “a bit surreal”. Varadkar said there were many issues on which Fianna Fáil could have threatened a new election, such as the restoration of public service pay or insistence that a national health service be developed.

“Water charges are being suspended, they’re not being abolished,” said Mr Varadkar. “But it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s not in the public interest to do this.”

He said he has always been in favour of water charges and he stood by that, because a dedicated stream of income was needed to upgrade and maintain the water system while also promoting conservation.

There was a collective dropping of jaws at his no-nonsense comments, particularly the timing of them, when a deal with Fianna Fáil is not yet finalised.

To many, his comments came across as petulant, given he is part of the Fine Gael team negotiating the very deal he was bemoaning. To others, it seemed like his opening audition for the looming leadership in Fine Gael.

Predictably, the Fianna Fáilers were not happy. The ever-impressive and level-headed Michael McGrath described Mr Varadkar’s comments as unhelpful, inaccurate, and self-serving.

He said that if a minority government is to have any prospect of succeeding, there must be goodwill, trust, and mutual respect between the parties. He added that Mr Varadkar’s comments raise questions over whether he wants a deal to be done.

Things appeared to be delayed as the teams could not agree on terms of legislation that would see the suspension of charges enacted. Fianna Fáil wanted it included that only a Dail vote could reintroduce charges.

Fine Gael, rightly, was reluctant to back this because it believes no Dáil will ever vote to reintroduce charges.

Negotiating teams were set to meet late last night. Barry Cowen was said to be most eager to see Mr Varadkar and respond to his earlier diatribe.

Elsewhere, there was much bemusement at the decision of Anti-Austerity TD Paul Murphy to seek legal aid to fight his upcoming trial for his role in the Jobstown protest in late 2014.

Mr Murphy, who donates portions of his €87,000 salary to his party, takes home the average industrial wage. It was on this basis that he applied for legal aid, though it is his decision to give away portions of his salary. Many were left asking was it for this the legal aid system was established.

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