'Brexit is not an excuse to stall election... no party has a divine right to power' - says Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has cranked up speculation on a general election by stating Brexit isn’t an excuse to avoid going to the polls.
Mr Martin has assured the EU taskforce negotiating Brexit with the British side that a change of government would not alter Ireland’s approach to the talks.
The move comes as the EU and British sides are said to be making “good progress” in talks on a Border deal.
The latest deal is designed to deliver what sources involved in talks in Brussels describe as an “invisible” border with Northern Ireland, even if trade negotiations break down after Brexit.
Senior figures in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expressed doubts that a new confidence and supply arrangement can be thrashed out in a reasonable timeframe to allow the Government to stay in power.
Independent minister Katherine Zappone said it “wouldn’t completely surprise” her if there was an election before the end of the year.
A number of Fine Gael ministers have privately told the Irish Independent they now favour an early election. This view has been heightened by a robust attack from Mr Martin on the Coalition.
He said the Government was so obsessed with spin that “one can take almost nothing it says at face value”.
The Fianna Fáil leader said: "No party has a divine right to power, no matter how much time it spends praising itself."
And on Brexit, Mr Martin warned: "In case anyone tries to use the Brexit situation as an excuse for claiming there is instability, we have assured Ireland's European partners of the stability of Ireland's negotiating position and that nothing will be done to interfere with a deal being done and implemented."
No talks on the confidence and supply deal are expected to take place before the Taoiseach attends a crucial EU summit on Brexit next week.
Many in Fine Gael believe that if a deal guaranteeing a soft Border is secured by mid-November, then Mr Varadkar should go to the country immediately.
Mr Varadkar last night told a private party meeting that the confidence and supply agreement was written before Brexit was a reality and, at seven pages long, it shouldn't take long to review. He reiterated his view that a new deal could be done by the end of the Halloween Dáil recess.
Friday, December 7, has been identified as a workable date and ministers have discussed using an "omnibus bill" to fast-track social welfare changes announced in the Budget.
A number of ministers told the Irish Independent it would be better to call an election now rather than allow Fianna Fáil to "string out" talks until Christmas when the homelessness and trolley crises will be at their peak.
One minister said an election was now likely to become "a self-fulfilling prophecy", however, another cautioned that "an election might just see everybody back negotiating a confidence and supply deal in three months anyway".
Opinions are even more divided in Fianna Fáil where some TDs are adamant there is nothing to be gained from continuing to prop up the Government. But others believe they should not rush to the polls for the sake of political expediency.
One proposal being put forward is that the party would not renew a deal but could allow the minority government to limp into 2019.
Louth TD Declan Breathnach said: "My preference is that we should not continue the confidence and supply but continue to support them until we get across Brexit."
However, Carlow TD John McGuinness said he does not believe a second deal should be agreed. "We've done our bit for the country and we've had three years of this and there's still one million people on the health waiting lists, we still have a crisis in housing. If we go into a new deal, we're just endorsing that," he said.
Meanwhile, for the past three days, British and European Union negotiators have been locked in the Berlaymont headquarters of the European Commission thrashing out a deal on the Irish "backstop" - and it now appears as if the outlines of a deal might have been reached.
Without checks on the Border, the EU has been demanding that British Prime Minister Theresa May agree to checks for customs and compliance with EU regulations in the Irish Sea - effectively creating a commercial border between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The prime minister has repeatedly ruled this "unacceptable" and instead has proposed a temporary "all-UK" customs arrangement which, according to a technical note released on June 7, would mean the UK continues to levy the EU's "common external tariff" on goods.
The offer will leave Britain in a "temporary" customs union with the EU.
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