FF leader: deal with FG hinges on delivery, not Taoiseach's timetable
Fianna Fail's decision on whether or not to renew the confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael will hinge on delivery in solving crises in health and housing, not "neat electoral timetables".
The warning from Micheal Martin came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked him to agree to a general election in the summer of 2020 during a meeting in Co Kerry.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Martin refused to be tied down on any date for the next election.
He said his party has honoured the confidence and supply deal "in good faith" and it will continue to do that.
And he put Mr Varadkar on notice that Fianna Fail won't be allowing him "carte blanche in terms of timetables or anything like that.
"We're focused on the issues and we will be influenced by the degree of progress on those issues," he said.
The pair met for more than an hour in the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney last Thursday night after weeks of sniping between the parties over the prospect of an early election. Mr Varadkar wants Fianna Fail to enter talks on renewing the deal that facilitates his minority government prior to the Budget.
Mr Martin has repeatedly insisted that talks on confidence and supply won't take place until the end of the year.
The parties released a joint statement on the meeting last Friday which outlined the broad issues that were discussed and gave a commitment that they would meet again in September.
There was anger in Fianna Fail when details of Mr Varadkar's proposal for a summer 2020 election emerged in The Irish Times yesterday.
Such timing would avoid the country going to the polls during crunch Brexit negotiations and would mean there'd be no clash with local and European elections next year.
Mr Martin said the election proposal was "just thrown out there" during the meeting and added "there wasn't any serious discussion at all of that".
He said their talks had been focused on the upcoming Budget, planned referendums and Brexit.
Mr Martin denied he had been painted into a corner by the call for a summer 2020 election. He branded this as "needless political speculation" and claimed "this is all about politics for Fine Gael".
He said there are "very serious issues" affecting people in housing and health, pointing to those who can't afford to buy houses - or are paying excessive rents - and waiting lists for operations in hospitals.
"We're not going to get obsessed with the politics of this. Focusing on the issues that affect people is what will influence our decisions, when we have to take decisions."
He refused to say when he foresees an election taking place. Instead, he said Fianna Fail is focused on progress on the measures in last year's Budget and talks ahead of the next Budget in October which he predicted will be "tough".
"Depending on how we get on in those negotiations, depending on whether or not there's delivery on key issues, that's what will determine our approach to confidence and supply in the future."
Mr Martin insisted he will not engage in speculation about the date of an election, saying it's "futile" and "missing the point".
He said Fianna Fail's focus is "not about neat electoral timetables, it's about delivering for people".