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'It's a principled position' - Taoiseach rules out coalition with Sinn Féin but open to three-way TV debate

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Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald at Féile an Phobail Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald at Féile an Phobail Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald at Féile an Phobail Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar vowed that he would participate in a three-way televised debate with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald if a TV station sought such an event.

Mr Varadkar - speaking as he campaigned in Cork - also insisted that Fine Gael would emerge as the largest party after the February 8 General Election, despite recent opinion polls indicating tumbling support for the Government party.

"I think what the opinion polls show is that there is a lot of volatility," he said.

"I saw one poll that showed a big swing to Fianna Fáil and another one now which shows a big swing to Sinn Fein."

"We will have another poll in another couple of days time and we don't know what that is going to say. But the situation as far as I can see it is that this election is close - Fine Gael is coming from behind."

"But it is close and it is all to play for. I look forward to spending the next few weeks getting around the country and putting across our message that we have the right track record, the right team and the right policies to take this country forward."

Mr Varadkar denied that the polls had indicated he was unpopular and possibly damaging the Fine Gael election brand.

"Not at all - what the polls show is that all the three main party leaders are neck and neck. I am slightly ahead of the other two. Even though I maybe down from where I was when we had the breakthrough on Brexit after we got a very responsible and not a giveaway budget through back in October, it shows the three main party leaders are neck and neck."

"(But) that does not matter - it is an opinion poll and there is a lot of volatility in public opinion."

"It is all to play for - Fine Gael can emerge as the largest party after the election."

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Mr Varadkar insisted the issue over the leaders debate was for the broadcasters involved.

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"That is absolutely up to the broadcasters - I understand that there may be a court action about that now. So I'd prefer not to comment. I don't have a difficulty debating Michael Martin head to head - I think it is right that we do that because we are the two people vying for the Taoiseach's office."

"But equally I have no difficulty doing a debate involving the leaders of the three major parties - it is up to the broadcasters."

Earlier today Sinn Féin said it would be seeking legal advice on their exclusion from the Virgin Media debate tomorrow night with Ms McDonald stating "it's not fair to exclude us".

Mr Varadkar also emphatically ruled out any question of his party negotiating a coalition deal with Sinn Fein after February 8.

"If we are in a situation where I believe we will be - that we are the largest party - then we are going to want to talk to all parties except Sinn Fein about forming a Government."

"Fine Gael has a good record when it comes to forming governments. We formed a government with the Labour Party that lasted for five years and ended amicably."

"We had a coalition with independents for about four years and that ended well and amicably."

"It is a very different record that you see with Fianna Fáil. They had a coalition with the Greens and the Greens walked out amid a national crisis."

"Before that they had a coalition with the Labour Party and the Labour Party walked out when trust broke down during a crisis as well."

"But I think we have a good record. If we are in the position where the people give us the privilege and the trust again as the largest party then we will want to talk to other parties about forming a government."

"We are not ruling out Sinn Fein as a potential government partner because of where they stand in the polls - that is not what it is about at all."

"It is a principled position that we are taking."

"It is our view that Sinn Fein is not a normal party - that their decision making process involves consulting with an Ard Comhairle and we have seen that in Northern Ireland where key decisions are not necessarily made by elected politicians."

"They are made by an Ard Comhairle which is not elected by the people."

"Secondly, and at a time of serious concerns about crime, Sinn Fein is a party that has consistently opposed the Special Criminal Court - a court that we use to lock up some really bad guys, dissident Republicans and people who are involved in organised crime."

"We could not possibly compromise on something like that.

"They have said they will review it (their stance on the Special Criminal Court) but a review is not a U-turn. I am asking for a U-turn from Sinn Fein on that next."


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