Leo Varadkar: 'you demanded pay increases you could not afford'

FINE GAEL has distanced itself from claims made by its enterprise, trade and employment spokesman Leo Varadkar that trade unions caused the recession.

Varadkar made his comments during a debate with Patricia McKeown of Ictu on Newstalk's breakfast show last Tuesday morning.

When asked what role he considered the trade union movement and the workers of Ireland had in causing the recession Varadkar said, "There are essentially four sides to the square. They are Fianna Fáil, the unions, the banks and the builders.

"There are a few causes behind the recession. There is a building boom which was allowed to get out of control by Fianna Fáil at the behest of the builders… but the unions are also crucial in demanding very large increases in public spending and very large increases in public sector pay... We have a budget deficit here of €2bn and part of that is (the unions') fault because you demanded pay increases you could not afford. You demanded benchmarking that the country could not afford and you demanded massive increases in public spending."

After Varadkar's comments on radio, the Sunday Tribune asked Fine Gael if it was party policy to blame trade unions for the country's current economic woes but the party distanced itself from the Dublin West TD's views.

A party spokesman said, "I think what Leo was getting at was dating back to our position on benchmarking in 2003. Enda Kenny said benchmarking was not a good idea and was not delivering for the taxpayer.

"Fianna Fáil in government along with the social partners signed off on that deal and then refused to release any details of their benchmarking evaluations.

"That benchmarking deal will this year alone cost the taxpayer €2bn extra in public sector wages. That is the exact same amount the government tried to seek in savings just last month."

The spokesman also stressed the importance of wage restraint as a means to begin repairing the crisis in the public finances.

who we blame for our woes, pages 11-13