Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Social Protection, Willie O’Dea TD has said that information released under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that former Minister for Social Protection, and now Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar failed to do anything to prevent maternity benefit payment delays.

The FOI clearly shows that despite officials in the Department flagging concerns relating to staff shortages, Minister Varadkar did nothing until it became a media issue.

“What’s clear is that for a long number of months before his election as Fine Gael Leader, Minister Varadkar’s head wasn’t in the game, and that he had taken his eye off of his brief as Minister for Social Protection.

“His singular focus was attempting to portray himself as a Taoiseach in Waiting, and as the darling of a right wing agenda.

“His decision to act only when it became a media story is typical of his attitude to politics. His preference is on protecting his personal brand, rather than on doing his day job.

“The Taoiseach’s former Departmental officials had flagged months in advance that staffing levels had become critical in the maternity benefit payments section and that there would be delays in payments unless staff were hired immediately.

“However, despite having this information, the Taoiseach failed to act and as a consequence significant delays emerged in processing payments causing a great deal of stress and in some cases financial hardship for new mothers.

“The now Taoiseach only acted when it became a threat to his image and credibility as a Taoiseach in waiting, and not because the delays would cause delays in payments and stress to new mothers.

“Sitting on your hands while problems get worse is not something the public wants in a Minister, let alone a Taoiseach. They expect Government leaders to act decisively when presented with a problem and to think about the public good first and not political credibility.

“We can but hope that the Taoiseach’s elevation to the highest political office in the land will refocus him on what truly matters: delivering for the citizens who rely on the State for support,” concluded O’Dea.