'Confidence and supply' deal will be extended into 2019, say Independents
Independent ministers believe an election will be avoided this year and suggest the deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will last beyond three budgets.
Communications Minister Denis Naughten and Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath have both signalled their belief that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will seek to hammer out an extension of the confidence and supply agreement.
There have been mixed signals from within Fianna Fáil on the prospect of renewing the deal, amid criticism of Government progress on resolving the housing crisis and concern the party would suffer electorally if the agreement is extended.
But Mr Naughten told the Irish Independent: "I don't honestly believe there'll be an election in 2018. I think Micheál Martin is determined to stand by the commitment he gave to three budgets.
"Barring any banana skins, I would expect that during the year there would probably be meetings between Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar... looking at the possibility of extending it even beyond the three-budget agreement."
Mr Naughten said the Government was beginning to deal with the challenges in housing and also pointed out that the country was heading towards full employment.
He said it was hard to predict what could ultimately bring the Government down but quoted the late Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, who said: "It's the little things that trip you up."
Mr Naughten, a former Fine Gael TD, said he intended to contest the next election as an Independent and has had "absolutely no discussions" about rejoining the party.
He said he would "sit down with anyone" after the election in relation to participation in a future government.
Mr McGrath also said he believed the Government would survive 2018, saying "the cynics" had predicted it wouldn't last six months. He said the Government would definitely get another budget passed "barring a cock-up or some scandal".
Mr McGrath said lessons were learned from coming to the brink of an election over the Garda whistleblower email controversy.
He cited working with Fianna Fáil on the Irish Sign Language Bill since as an example of renewed co-operation. "I would be nearly saying - because of the current political climate - that we might even go to a fourth budget," he said.