Northern Ireland

O’Neill stands by criticism of Taoiseach after Martin brands her words partisan

The Tanaiste said Michelle O’Neill’s comments ‘left a lot of be desired’.

Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Hillsborough Castle
Michelle O'Neill Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill at Hillsborough Castle (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has stood by her criticism of the resigning Taoiseach after Ireland’s deputy premier branded her comments “very partisan”.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin said Michelle O’Neill’s remarks following Leo Varadkar’s announcement “left a lot to be desired”.

In a press conference in Belfast on Wednesday, Sinn Fein vice president Ms O’Neill accused Mr Varadkar’s party Fine Gael of 13 years of “failure” as she insisted it was time for a general election in the Republic of Ireland.

She was making the comments as First Minister in a joint appearance alongside DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.



“It’s not a time for a rearranging of the deckchairs,” Ms O’Neill said.

“And, ultimately, it’s for the people to decide who will be the taoiseach.

“So I think it’s now over to the people, there should be an election, people should have a chance to pass their verdict, particularly after 13 years of Fine Gael in power, 13 years of failure on their part, 13 years of failure to build houses, 13 years of failure to support people through the cost-of-living crisis.

“So, ultimately, what we now need to see is an election.”

Tanaiste Micheal Martin said Michelle O’Neill’s comments ‘left a lot of be desired’
RTE report Tanaiste Micheal Martin said Michelle O’Neill’s comments ‘left a lot of be desired’ (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Martin referred to the remarks as he sparred with Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty in the Dail on Thursday.

He said they stood in contrast to Sinn Fein’s “glowing” welcome for the recently announced increase in Irish government funding for Northern Ireland through its Shared Island Fund.

“Just last week your party were calling us and acknowledged and thanked the Government in terms of the Shared Island initiative and huge funding in Northern Ireland,” he told Mr Doherty.

“I thought the comments from your First Minister left a lot to be desired.

“Very partisan comments from the First Minister in respect of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, given a month ago, the glowing response to the Government’s Shared Island Initiative.

“We’ve done more in respect of cross-border development and investment in Northern Ireland than any government for many a year.”

First Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) made the comments in a joint press conference with deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly in Belfast on Wednesday
Michelle O’Neill visit to FinTrU First Minister Michelle O’Neill (left) made the comments in a joint press conference with deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly in Belfast on Wednesday (Peter Morrison/PA)

Speaking to reporters in Hillsborough on Thursday, Ms O’Neill was asked whether she believed her remarks were appropriate and if she had struck the correct tone for a Stormont First Minister passing comment on the resignation of Ireland’s premier.

While she said she had not heard Mr Martin’s comments in the Dail, she added: “What I can say is I’m quite sure the Tanaiste, as a coalition partner, would rather talk about anything other than his performance and their performance in government.

“My position is very clear in terms of what needs to happen next, it’s not for Fine Gael to rearrange the deckchairs, it’s not for Fine Gael to decide who gets to take up the helm of taoiseach.

“Ultimately, it should go to the people for an election.

“On a personal basis, I wish Leo Varadkar the very best, I wish him very well in terms of his personal life and whatever life may hold for him next.

“I think that’s only the courteous thing to do.

“But I think I was responding to a question yesterday in terms of what should happen next in terms of the replacement of Taoiseach.”

In the same press conference on Wednesday, Ms Little-Pengelly had remarked that unionism “did not always see eye-to-eye with Leo Varadkar” but she wished him well.