Friday 21 October 2016

'People will link me sitting on the toilet to FG leadership' - Leo

Minister Varadkar denied reports he's in a leadership battle with Simon Coveney
Minister Varadkar denied reports he's in a leadership battle with Simon Coveney

Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar is waiting for the moment he "sits on the toilet" and it gets linked to the Fine Gael leadership race.

The minister, who is frontrunner to replace Enda Kenny, has dismissed speculation that his radical new proposal to reform the social welfare system is part of a leadership pitch.

At the MacGill Summer School in Donegal on Thursday, Mr Varadkar revealed that he wants to link social welfare payments to the cost of living. This is likely to result in annual rises in line with inflation.


Asked whether this was a populist move aimed at persuading people to vote for him, Mr Varadkar replied: "No matter what I say or do for the last six months, people are linking it to the leadership of Fine Gael.

"I'm just waiting for the moment that I sit on the toilet and some commentator somewhere decides that's part of some sort of strategy."

He said summer schools are about "stepping back".

"They are about thinking about longer-term questions and broader issues and floating ideas. That's what I was doing.

"I'm the Minister for Social Protection. These are my responsibilities. I attend a summer school and what am I going to talk about? Of course I'm going to talk about the future of social protection and welfare reform."

However, Mr Varadkar added that he would not be "losing any sleep" over the speculation that he is already engaged in a battle with Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald to be the next Taoiseach.

He did acknowledge that he had not raised the proposal at Cabinet before announcing it publicly.

"It's not something that we had a detailed discussion about at Cabinet or anything like that," the minister said. "I've had discussions individually with ministers - but not all ministers, and not at Cabinet."

He added that he looked forward "to a debate about this in the coming months".

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has told how senior minisers from other EU Member States are not aware that Ireland is remaining in the European Union in the wake of Brexit.

He was approached by a number of his counterparts at a recent EU meeting in Slovakia who did not realise "we're staying in Europe".

Mr Varadkar said he was asked a serious of "unusual questions" and a big diplomatic effort is now needed to reassure other countries of our position.

"Some of them were asking me 'is Ireland going to leave the EU as well?'. So I had to make it very clear that our place is in Europe, our home is in Europe," he said.

"Europe's a big place now. There are 28 members and we're a small country. There's a big diplomatic offensive underway now to firstly reassure everyone in politics, business and everything else that Ireland made it's decision a long time ago."


The minister added that he believes Ireland made its commitment to the EU by joining the Euro currency when Britain opted out.

"We are staying in Europe, it's our home, we helped to build it and we're staying at the heart of it," he said.

The Dublin West TD welcomed comments by French President Francois Hollande that Ireland need a central role in the Brexit talks.

However, he said work was still needed to convince other leaders - including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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