By David Raleigh
Tensions between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have soared to heatwave proportions after Micheál Martin described his coalition partner Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as a “prickly” man “with an authoritarian streak”.
The Fianna Fáil leader made his comments when asked on a visit to Limerick for his reaction to alleged remarks by the Taoiseach at a private gathering in New York in which he suggested he sympathised with Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and that there were too many journalists in Leinster House concentrating on gossip rather than matters in the public interest.
The Taoiseach also allegedly made reference to the accuracy of investigative journalism in Ireland and cited RTÉ's 'Prime Time Investigates' 'Mission to Prey' programme.
Mr Martin said he agreed that “people can be critical of the media - but when Leo Varadkar said he sympathises with Donald Trump's position on the media, I drew a deep breath on that”.
“I said hang on a second, some of the attacks of Donald Trump on the media have been unacceptable, in my opinion."
Mr Martin accused the Taoiseach of being relentless in leaking information to journalists in Leinster House.
"Leo Varadkar has (always) fed off the Irish media. I would have thought most people would say he got very beneficial media treatment for the last 12 months.”
“He has used the Irish media (and) he would have been notorious as a leaker, providing information to the journalists who he now accuses of being gossipers around Leinster house.”
Mr Martin continued: "I mean to say, he was on first name terms with them all, and he has turned on them at a private gathering in New York."
"And then, for some reason he had a pop at RTE Investigates…some of the more recent RTE Investigates programmes have been very effective in terms of health (scandals)."
WATCH: @campaignforleo tells Dáil he was "not quoted in full" when he made comments on the media at a private lunch in New York. Reaction from @MaryLouMcDonald @MichealMartinTD @EamonRyan @SenDavidNorris pic.twitter.com/JTkQkY2JG9
— RTÉ Politics (@rtepolitics) July 4, 2018
Mr Martin said he believed the Taoiseach is annoyed with coverage of the health service following his previous tenure as Health Minister prior to becoming Taoiseach.
"Maybe that’s annoyed him, the programmes on scoliosis for example. There is no doubt that there wouldn't have been the same reaction by the Minister for Health to the scoliosis crisis among children, if it wasn't for the RTE Investigates programme. Maybe that’s annoying (the Taoiseach).”
In a surprising personal attack on the Taoiseach, Mr Martin added: “He does have a prickly nature, and he does have an authoritarian streak, where he doesn't like criticism; he's very sensitive to it."
Asked if he would be up to the job of knocking the “authoritarian streak” out of the Toaiseach, Mr Martin laughed and replied: “Yes”.
Mr Martin said he was “committed” to the confidence and supply arrangement between the coalition partners.
He accused the Taoiseach and Fine Gael of “fanning the flames” of speculation over a possible date for the next general election.
He added he still had to sit down with Mr Varadkar to thrash out negotiations ahead of the Budget, before the confidence and supply arrangement was up for review.
[quote]"There are major issues surrounding housing and health, if we are honest. I don't think anyone can deny that the government are not demonstrating a capacity to deal with these issues. The issues are running away from government.”[/quote]
In response, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said: “The Taoiseach dealt with this matter comprehensively in the Dail yesterday.”