16 Jan 2020 | 11.29 am
Taoiseach’s ‘Homeless Man’ Gaffe Trumps Votegate
RTE in the firing line from Sinn Féin
16 Jan 2020 | 11.29 am
The second day of campaigning saw Fine Gael attempt to keep the pressure on Fianna Fail over ‘Votegate’, but taoiseach Leo Varadkar came under sustained fire for his comments about a homeless man seriously injured when his tent was removed from a canal bank.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin went for RTE’s jugular, charging the state broadcaster with failing to live up to its responsibilities to provide full and impartial coverage of the election.
Describing RTÉ’s decision to hold a one-to-one debate between the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as an “utter joke”, director of elections Pearse Doherty said: “At a time when there is much debate about the role of public service broadcasting, RTÉ has illustrated its failure to live up to its responsibilities.
“Sinn Féin has been the effective voice of opposition in the Dáil for the past four years, while Fianna Fáil has propped up Fine Gael in government through their ‘confidence and supply’ deal.
“There is no difference between these two parties. They have the same ideology and the same outlook, and combined they received less than 50% of the votes of the Irish people at the last general election.
“This election is about much more than these two parties and the media have a responsibility to make sure that all voices are heard. By excluding Sinn Féin, RTÉ is facilitating the game-plan of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.”
Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd (pictured) zeroed in on Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin, challenging what he described as the Fianna Fail leader’s refusal for a second day to rule out appointing TDs who were at the centre of the Votegate controversy to his government should Fianna Fail form one.
“This is an insult to voters – a Dáil investigation into both deputies did not give a verdict on either but, apparently, that doesn’t matter to Micheál Martin. He is happy to overlook their voting practices in order to boost his lacklustre team,” O’Dowd declared.
“To appoint these deputies to cabinet would show contempt for the Irish public who put their faith and trust in TDs to carry out their Dáíl duties to the highest standard – voting on legislation is at the heart of what we do as TDs.
“The public deserve to know if he plans to give ministerial car keys to the double voter and absentee voter. Can the FF leader explain how their actions warranted expulsion from the FF front bench but does not exclude them from a potential seat at Cabinet?”
The Fianna Fáil leader, meanwhile, described the taoiseach’s response to the injury inflicted on the homeless man as “extraordinary”. Leo Varadkar had said he was “concerned” about the incident in Dublin (pictured below) and called on the city’s Lord Mayor, Paul McAuliffe of Fianna Fáil, to make a statement about it.
This provoked accusations that the taoiseach was attempting to turn the man’s injury into a political football for electoral advantage. Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Darragh O’Brien said he was “taken aback and pretty disgusted” by Varadkar’s statement.
O’Brien added: ”The taoiseach has stooped to a new low by trying to use this tragic event to have a pop at Paul McAuliffe. It’s pathetic and beneath the office he holds. He has totally politicised it.
“He has used this tragedy as an opportunity to have a go at others. This is what they do in Fine Gael. It’s a ridiculous, outrageous politicisation and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Varadkar denied the charge. “I’ve never sought to make homelessness a party political issue and I think if anything we’ve been on the receiving end of that rather the perpetrators of it,” he said.
Fine Gael go into the election with 47 seats while Fianna Fail has 45, Sinn Fein 22, Independents 22, Labour 7, Solidarity PBP 6, and the Green Party 3. There are 160 Dáil seats up from grabs in the election, two more than last time.
Paddy Power make Fianna Fáil favourite to win most seats at 8/13, in from 8/11 when the election was called on Jan.14. Fine Gael is priced up at 6/5 to win most seats, out from evens (1/1) on the day the election was called.
The bookies make Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin 4/7 favourite to be the next Taoiseach, in from 4/6. Varadkar is priced up at 5/4 to retain his job, out from 11/10 two days ago.
In terms of the number of seats for each party, Paddy Power’s current betting line is Fine Gael 47.5, Fianna Fail 52.5, Sinn Féin 18.5, Labour 8.5, and the Greens 9.5.