Varadkar and Martin face off in election debate over cost of living

The man bidding to lead Ireland’s next Government has said the country needs real change to help those struggling with the rising cost of living.

Opposition leader Micheal Martin is trying to capitalise on positive recent opinion polls indicating a change of administration could be on the cards.

Wednesday night marked the Fianna Fail chief’s first televised head-to-head debate of the General Election campaign with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Mr Martin said: “Our country needs a new government that will put aside the obsession with party politics.

“I am looking forward to talking about real change.”

General Election Ireland 2020
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin at Virgin Media One studios, Dublin as the leaders of the two main parties in the Irish General Election go head to head in a television debate (Brian Lawless/PA).

Mr Varadkar took a break from campaigning around the country to prepare for the live debate.

He leads the largest party in Ireland and a minority coalition Government.

The loss of support from independent members of the Dail parliament forced him to call an early election.

The Taoiseach said that after Fine Gael came to power in 2011, the party had to get the country back to work.

“We have started to make plans that make a difference.

“There are 21,000 families sitting around a dinner table in houses that didn’t exist in the last number of years,” he added.

“Fine Gael wants to be in government and we have shown we can work with other parties.

“We have shown we can put governments together. My preference is to form a coalition.”

Fine Gael has suffered a difficult start to their re-election bid with two recent opinion polls showing a drop in support for the party and his own personal rating.

The figures in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey published on Monday put support for Fianna Fail on 25%, Fine Gael on 23% and Sinn Fein on 21%.

Mr Martin has dismissed polls putting his party ahead of Fine Gael and insisted they will fluctuate in the weeks ahead and the gap between the two parties is close.

Asked if he would enter a confidence-and-supply arrangement to prop up a minority administration, Mr Varadkar said it is not his preference but if it will form a government, he will do so.

Mr Martin accused Mr Varadkar of failing to be grown-up.

“There are more personal attacks on me than on Fianna Fail policies,” he added.

“We believe there is a need for a new government.”

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald criticised Wednesday evening’s head-to-head debate format on Virgin Media One and said it was unfair that she was excluded as the leader of the third largest party.

Wednesday marks day eight of the campaign with pensions, housing and health on the agenda as candidates continue to push for votes.

On the campaign trail on Wednesday morning, Mr Varadkar officially handed in his ballot papers in Dublin while his Fine Gael party colleague Simon Coveney went to Co Tipperary to set out the party’s plans for rural Ireland.

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