Saturday 24 February 2018

Taoiseach edges towards Friday, February 26 for polling day

■ Figures show that an extra €1bn poured into State coffers ■ Taoiseach set to host the final Cabinet meeting today

Enda Kenny is expected to divulge the date of the election today. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells
Enda Kenny is expected to divulge the date of the election today. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells

Niall O'Connor, Fionnán Sheahan and John Downing

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is poised to announce the date of the General Election on the back of new figures showing that an extra billion euro poured into the State's coffers in January.

A surge in consumer and car sales, combined with an increase in income tax receipts, will provide the Coalition with the ideal platform to call Election 2016.

Mr Kenny is expected to go to Áras an Uachtaráin in the coming hours and seek permission from President Michael D Higgins to formally dissolve the Dáil.

Afterwards, he will return to Government Buildings to host a joint press conference with Tánaiste Joan Burton to mark the calling of the election.

As a result, this Dáil will not sit again. Mr Kenny is expected to hold the election on Friday, February 26 - despite giving serious consideration to the previous day.

But the decision has nothing to do with remarks by Alan Kelly and other Labour figures that holding the election on a Thursday would exclude students.

"Kelly is miles off if he thinks the Taoiseach would allow himself to be influenced over the election date," said a senior Fine Gael source.

Government sources last night said today's Exchequer figures will reveal a surplus of more than €1bn.

The figures show that the country's economic growth is displaying no sign of abating - despite concerns surrounding the Chinese economy.

Nonetheless, the Finance Minister, Michael Noonan, is expected on Thursday to announce Fine Gael's long-term economic plan, which will include the proposal to set up a €2.5bn 'rainy day fund'. The plan was discussed at a meeting of Fine Gael ministers last night; however, Mr Kenny did not discuss the election date.

In a clear indication that the economy recovery is now on a firm footing, more than €2bn was collected in VAT in January - an increase of over €100m on the same period last year.

This is being attributed to very strong January sales.

While corporation tax receipts are down marginally, there has been also been a surge in income tax and excise duties.

Receipts for income tax were at over €1.6bn in January - up €100m on 2015.

And the proceeds of excise duties, generated from the sales of the likes of alcohol, tobacco and petrol, have also surged.

"The figures show that car sales and consumer spending are going up and it's clear that people went out and socialised over Christmas, which is also positive," said a Government source.

When Mr Kenny calls the election, he will pave the way for a short campaign of around 24 days.

The final exchange of the 31st Dáil was last Thursday evening, between Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy on specialist medicine in hospitals.

Mr Kenny will chair the final Cabinet meeting of this Government at 10am today, during which he is expected to divulge the date of the General Election.

There has been widespread speculation that he could wait until tomorrow before dissolving the Dáil. This is partly due to the fact that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is scheduled to meet to grill HSE boss Tony O'Brien over the sexual abuse scandal in the south-east.

However, the decision by the Government last night to set up a Commission of Investigation is seen as being an appropriate response to the issue.

One Fine Gael cabinet minister last night said everything pointed to an election declaration as early as today and the fixing of polling day for later this month. The senior source said choosing Friday, February 26, "made very good sense".

"In practice, this Government's work ended just after the last Budget day, though there was important detailed work to be dealt with.

"There is little advantage to be gained from dragging things on any longer - we might as well get on with the election," the senior Fine Gael source said.

Others, well placed inside the party hierarchy, said all signs were that Mr Kenny was on the cusp of calling the election. They stressed that up to late last night, Mr Kenny was keeping his own counsel and only a handful of close advisers were taken into his confidence.

"But there is a total logic to finishing things and not going into another Dáil week. There is also nothing against Friday, February 26, as polling day," a party source said.

Labour candidates were preparing to put up posters late last night ahead of the expected announcement, but were told to stand their teams down amid concern Mr Kenny was stalling.

Irish Independent

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