Friday 15 December 2017

FG and FF prepare for snap election

Taoiseach sets up 'war council' for spring poll

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Picture: PA
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael is preparing for a general election as early as next spring, the Sunday Independent can reveal. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has put his party on full election footing with Fine Gael officials told to advance preparations for the possibility of a snap poll early next year.

Mr Varadkar has also established a secret election "war council" comprising ministers and senior party officials which is tasked with ensuring Government policy has a distinctive Fine Gael focus.

The internal group held its first behind-closed-doors meeting in July and will meet every month once the Dail returns in September.

"We are looking at an election by spring," a senior party figure said.

Senior Fianna Fail figures are also anticipating an election early next year, well in advance of the scheduled end to the party's confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael. With this in mind, the party intends to exert strong influence on the Budget in October.

Fianna Fail will seek to cut the USC rate, extend mortgage interest relief for another year, reduce the threshold for the drug payment scheme and introduce a home carers' tax credit.

The party will also push to have the point at which business owners pay capital gains tax on assets increased from €1m to €15m.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach has also instructed senior Fine Gael officials to hold meetings with constituency chairs and directors of elections to ensure they are election-ready.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets members of the PSNI and Garda representative of the gay community as he arrives for a Gay Pride breakfast meeting at the Northern Whig bar in Belfast. Picture: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets members of the PSNI and Garda representative of the gay community as he arrives for a Gay Pride breakfast meeting at the Northern Whig bar in Belfast. Picture: PA

The party expects to have completed selection conventions for candidates in up to 10 constituencies before December with a view to finishing the process early next year.

Fine Gael will hold a conference in November where members will be asked to vote on a number of radical changes to the party's rulebook.

Central to the new rules will be a proposal to allow people to join Fine Gael nationally without signing up to local branches. The proposal is inspired by French President Emmanuel Macron's political party, En Marche.

"The Taoiseach will set out his vision for the party in November and then the Government will come to an end early next year," the party source added.

A senior minister said "no one wants an election this year" but said it was possible that a vote would be held between "April and May next year".

In July, Mr Varadkar gathered his ministers and key advisers, along with Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran and national executive chair Gerry O'Connell, at a meeting in party headquarters.

The meeting was aimed at ensuring the party "did not make the mistakes of the last administration", according to sources.

Ministers were told to put "political perspective on the work of the Government" as the prospect of an election increases.

Mr Curran and Mr O'Connell have also been tasked with relaying the new party leader's vision to constituency organisers who are responsible for preparing election campaigns.

"Everyone is on full general election footing now it could happen at any time," a source said.

Fianna Fail has held five selection conventions this year and is expected to hold several more in the coming months. Senior Fianna Fail figures also believe a spring election is a possibility due to the instability of the confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael.

The ramping up of election preparations comes as Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin sets out for the first-time his party's budget demands ahead of negotiations with Mr Varadkar.

Mr Martin's tax demands are squarely focused on middle income earners with the Fianna Fail leader seeking to have the 2.5pc USC rate cut to 2pc or the 5pc rate cut to 4.5pc.

He wants mortgage interest relief for struggling home owners extended for another year, a €10 reduction in the €144 threshold for the drug payment scheme and a home carers' tax credit.

Mr Martin will also push to have the point at which business owners pay the 10pc capital gains tax on assets increased from €1m to €15m.

Also in the Sunday Independent today, Fianna Fail Social Protection spokesman Willie O'Dea writes that there is a need for "proportionate increases each year and every year" in the old age pension.

"At the February 2016 election, Fine Gael promised a €25-a-week pension increase by 2021. It was less than the increase sought by Fianna Fail, so it is the absolute minimum we can expect or tolerate," Mr O'Dea said.

Yesterday, Fianna Fail's finance spokesman Michael McGrath also attacked the Government's plans to merge the USC and PRSI.

"While there would be undoubtedly benefits from a simplification of the tax system, pre-budget briefing papers prepared by the Department of Finance indicate that there are significant challenges associated with merging the two charges," Mr McGrath said.

However, it is understood the Government does not intend to merge to the two taxes in this budget but rather it is a long-term goal.

Sunday Independent

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