Wednesday 22 January 2020

Taoiseach decides election date but delays announcement

Leo Varadkar said he had to inform opposition leaders and complete some outstanding Government business before making the announcement.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said protocol dictates he must delay the announcement (PA)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said protocol dictates he must delay the announcement (PA)

By David Young, PA

Ireland’s premier has made a decision on the date of the country’s general election, but says protocol means he cannot yet announce it.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he had to complete some outstanding business on European and British/Irish affairs and inform cabinet colleagues and rival politicians in the Dail parliament before making the announcement.

Amid mounting speculation that Ireland will go to the polls in February, Mr Varadkar said: “I have made a decision but there is unfinished business to do which I want to get done and also there is some respect and protocol around this and I would like to speak to the cabinet and to leaders of the opposition.”

He said the Dail would reconvene on Wednesday as scheduled.

Mr Varadkar’s minority Fine Gael-led administration is facing potential defeat in a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris in the first week of next month.

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Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin has been propping up Mr Varadkar’s minority government through a confidence and supply arrangement (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Taoiseach, who is holding a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, looks set to avert that eventuality by calling an election.

Mr Varadkar’s personal preference was for a poll in the early summer but, in an interview on RTE Radio One’s This Week programme on Sunday, he acknowledged “circumstances have changed”.

“We have a deal on Brexit, in many ways that was the big job of this government, our magnum opus to secure a deal on Brexit,” he explained.

“We have the institutions up and running in Northern Ireland which the Tanaiste (Simon Coveney) and I have put a huge amount of work in to, particularly the Tanaiste. And also the arithmetic in the Dail has changed and that’s the reality of that.”

He later appeared to hint of an imminent campaign when he referenced that parties would be making claims about his government’s fiscal record in the “next couple of weeks”.

Mr Varadkar’s administration has faced intense criticism from rival parties for its handling of problems in housing and health care.

Fine Gael’s landmark confidence and supply arrangement with arch rivals Fianna Fail, which has sustained the Government since 2016, has also come under growing pressure amid rows over expenses and voting practices in the Dail.

Last month, the Government narrowly avoided defeat in a no-confidence motion against Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, by only three votes.

But the numbers in the Dail do not look like stacking up in favour of Mr Harris in February, with a crucial handful of TDs indicating they intend to change how they will vote this time around.

Hours after the Taoiseach’s remarks, Fianna Fail made clear it was already on campaign footing by announcing deputy leader Dara Calleary as its director of elections.

“We have a very strong team of candidates, a solid message and we are ready to fight and win the next General Election, whenever it may be,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald criticised both main parties for their insistence that they would not countenance her party as potential coalition parties in a future government.

She tweeted: “We appointed ministers to the Executive in Belfast, a move welcomed by same parties that want to exclude Sinn Fein from govt in Dublin.

“They are hypocrites, Leo Varadkar & Micheal Martin will not dictate that we and our voters are not good enough for govt. We will not be excluded.”

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