Bullish Varadkar says next May is 'right moment' for country to go to the polls
Fine Gael is actively planning for a general election in May 2020, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed.
He told TDs and senators at his party's pre-Dáil meeting in Cork that it would be "the right moment" to go to the country. Mr Varadkar signalled that he wants to meet US President Donald Trump in the White House for St Patrick's Day and attend an EU Council meeting in March before calling an election.
He said this would allow a new government to be in place "well in advance of the next summer recess".
"We should also, by then, have secured a Brexit deal or have guided the country through the worst of no deal, though timelines, when it comes to Brexit, are unpredictable," he said.
Earlier this week, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he thought an election could be called in "early spring".
While calling an election is the prerogative of the Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil could technically spark one at any time by pulling out of the Confidence and Supply arrangement. Mr Martin said his party was closely watching Brexit developments in the hope of a resolution in the next few weeks "and then we'll look at the situation in early 2020".
The timeline means four by-elections, caused by the election of TDs to the European Parliament, will have to be held later this year. They will take place in Dublin Fingal, Dublin Mid-West, Wexford and Cork North Central.
Mr Varadkar sought to limit expectations for those contests, saying Fine Gael should aim to win one. However, he said the party would win the general election and secure a historic third term in power.
"I believe we can win that election. In fact, I am sure of it, even though it may not become apparent until the last week or 10 days of the election campaign," the Taoiseach said.
"The country is on the right track. The economy is strong with full employment and rising incomes. We have the best team and the best plans. That is shining through."
Mr Varadkar launched a blistering attack on Fianna Fáil and went so far as to claim the Green Party could become "the Trojan horse" that allows Mr Martin to become Taoiseach.
"They've done it before. We don't want to go back to that," he added.
Mr Varadkar claimed Fianna Fáil was making financial promises that "can only be filled with higher taxes or greater borrowing".
"They need to come clean and tell us. There's a new promise to a new group every week. And when you promise everything to everyone, it means your promises aren't worth much. They can't be trusted," he said.
"They have no solutions, no policies, no plans and they do not have the team to match ours."
Mr Varadkar's attack on the Green Party, which could be kingmaker after an election, surprised some in the party.
"They have some good policies and we should not be embarrassed to make some of those good ideas our own in the months ahead.
"If it's the right thing to do, we should do it," he said. "However, there is a difference between green policies and the Green Party."
On Sinn Féin, Mr Varadkar said it had "demonstrated what political impotence really looks like".
"The Executive and Assembly in Stormont shuttered. Sinn Féin MPs taking their expenses and salaries but not their seats in Westminster when crucial decisions affecting Ireland were being made," he added.
"They don't see Brexit as a problem - they see it as an opportunity. Calling for a Border poll isn't showing leadership on Brexit. It's really bad timing and risks making a bad situation worse. It's the very opposite of leadership."