By Stephen Murphy, Ireland correspondent
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has told Sky News he wants to lead his party in opposition if it loses Ireland’s general election.
The Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) is under pressure after a series of polls showed his Fine Gael party trailing the main opposition party Fianna Fáil, led by Micheál Martin, ahead of Saturday’s vote.
Mr Varadkar said if his party wants him, he will continue to lead it.
Image: Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin must battle the recent legacy of his party
He said: “And if needs be, leader of the opposition, because I have a lot of energy for this, I’ve the hunger for it. We’ve started so many good things, that I really want to see through.”
A Red C poll in today’s Business Post newspaper shows Fine Gael falling behind Sinn Féin, which has now drawn level with Fianna Fáil.
Support for Fine Gael has dropped off despite a thriving Irish economy – the fastest-growing in Europe – and the government receiving plaudits for its handling of Brexit negotiations.
But voters on doorsteps have expressed anger over a range of domestic issues, such as a lack of affordable housing, spiralling rents, homelessness, and an overcrowded healthcare system with long waiting lists.
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Mr Varadkar argues that Fine Gael – in power since 2011 – needs more time to provide solutions to these problems, and has warned that a change of government is not the answer.
Speaking to Sky News, the Taoiseach asked what would happen if Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin led the next government.
“Certainly if Fianna Fáil led the next government, what would happen is what happened every time in my lifetime when they got into power; there would be a boom and bust,” he said.
“And Fine Gael will be here to pick up the pieces. But please let’s not make that mistake again.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin could be in pole position to be Ireland’s next prime minister, if his party is the largest in the new Dáil (Irish parliament).
Image: (L-R) Irish politicians Mary Lou McDonald, Roisin Shortall, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Eamon Ryan, Micheal Martin, Richard Boyd Barrett and Brendan Howlin
The 59-year-old from Cork has led his party for nine years, and wants to avoid becoming the first Fianna Fáil leader not to become Taoiseach.
He told Sky News the difference between him and Leo Varadkar is his capacity to get things done.
“I’m more about the substance of the issues as opposed to spinning an approach to the issue,” he said.
“I think the Fine Gael-led government has been spinning for a long time in terms of making announcements, making plans, of announcing plans but very little happening afterwards, very little delivery in terms of housing, homelessness, the health services and the impact of the cost of living on people.”
Mr Martin must battle the recent legacy of his party, however, which under Taoiseach Brian Cowen, led Ireland into a humiliating financial bailout in 2010.
And he must defend his decision to enter a confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael, which has been keeping the minority government in place since May 2016.
Mr Martin said he “facilitated a confidence and supply agreement”.
“We had to, in terms of Brexit, because it would have been irresponsible and wrong to collapse the government in the context of a no-deal Brexit,” he said.
Both men must contend with a surge in support for Mary Lou McDonald’s Sinn Féin, which endured torrid local and European election campaigns in 2019, but appears to be capitalising on voter dissatisfaction with the two largest parties.
Mr Varadkar will continue to trumpet successes with the economy and on Brexit, while Mr Martin will continue to promise much-needed change on housing and healthcare.
Voters go to the polls on Saturday, and if no clear winner emerges, Ireland could face a period of extended wrangling to form a new government.
Source : Sky News