Saturday 21 September 2019

Back us or go to the polls - FG warning

Confidence-and-supply negotiations enter fourth week without discussion of future

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fine Gael has ramped up the pressure on Micheal Martin to extend the lifespan of the Government by 18 months - or let the country decide who should govern.

A string of ministers launched public and private attacks on Fianna Fail this weekend amid growing impatience over the slow pace of confidence-and-supply talks.

As negotiations enter a fourth week, they have yet to deal with what a new arrangement might involve. The focus has been on reviewing the past three years with officials from the Departments of Housing and Health.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday he will not be calling a general election before the end of the year. However, there were strong hints from his Cabinet that, once the abortion legislation has passed and Brexit uncertainty is resolved, all bets are off.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney, who is usually coy on such issues, declared the party was election-ready. "Make no mistake about that," he said.

Mr Coveney said the negotiations are "serious in terms of trying to provide stability for a relatively short period of time" but added that Fine Gael "will not stay in government without clarity" on the deal with Fianna Fail.

Fine Gael’s Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell, left, and European Affairs Minister and Meath East TD Helen McEntee at the party’s 79th Ard Fheis yesterday. Photo: Fergal Phillips.
Fine Gael’s Dublin Bay South TD Kate O’Connell, left, and European Affairs Minister and Meath East TD Helen McEntee at the party’s 79th Ard Fheis yesterday. Photo: Fergal Phillips.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said the message from the Ard Fheis "is that Fine Gael is ready for that election. The printing machines are well-oiled".

Asked if the rhetoric coming from Fine Gael risked bouncing the country into an unintended election, Simon Harris said: "No, but what could do that is if people don't recognise we have a confidence-and-supply agreement that expires in a matter of days. For some time now, Michael Martin has been debating with himself about when confidence and supply ends."

The minister criticised Fianna Fail's Lisa Chambers for "sniping" at the Government's messaging on Brexit. He said other EU countries were showing more solidarity with Ireland than Fianna Fail.

Mr Varadkar said Fine Gael is "almost" election ready. He expressed a preference to secure an extension to the current Government's lifespan until summer 2020, but warned that if Fianna Fail's price is too high, he will go to the country in the New Year.

"Any political party has to be ready for an election. We have a minority Government and a confidence-and-supply agreement that was for three budgets. Now, we're beyond three budgets. We're fairly ready but not 100pc," Mr Varadkar said.

He was speaking at Fine Gael's Ard Fheis in Dublin where members are debating what the party's key policies should be for the year ahead.

Mr Varadkar said it was not in his plan to have an election this year but "these things aren't entirely under my control".

"I don't have any plans to seek a dissolution of the Dail this side of Christmas. But it's not entirely in my hands. Fianna Fail could withdraw support at any time or potentially, although I don't anticipate it, people who are serving in Government now could leave it," he said.

On uncertainty over Brexit, he said: "My primary interest is not going to be electoral interest. It's looking after the interest of the country we're charged to lead."

However, he said that while the minority Government has achieved more than he envisaged since 2016, the 'new politics' has also lead to some legislation being delayed. "The country is on track. It is my view a majority Government led by Fine Gael would be able to get a lot more done."

Sunday Independent

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