FIANNA Fáil has accused Fine Gael of “bad faith, selfishness and putting party before country” after it emerged that logistical planning to hold elections and referendums during the Covid-19 crisis is underway.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has confirmed that his Department officials have begun preparing for referendums, possible by-elections and a possible general election that may need to happen while public health restrictions are in place.
It comes amid ongoing efforts by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens to form a government with talks underway since last week.
Independent.ie has learned that Tánaiste and Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney and Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary spoke on Saturday morning in a bid to de-escalate the row. Fine Gael has insisted it is committed to forming a government.
However, senior Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, who is a member of the party's negotiating team, said that the emergence of the plan “smacks of bad faith, selfishness and putting party before country”.
“No doubt they will say they had to have an alternative plan, whether that is credible or not is another thing altogether,” Mr Cowen said, adding that officials’ time was being wasted given any changes in how elections or referendums are run would require new laws.
“The proposal seems completely non-feasible without legislation as it would involve a Garda and presiding officer calling to 650,000 cocooners one-by-one to get their vote under current special voting arrangements.
“The application process for the supplementary register to be included for special voting or postal voting would be a logistical nightmare involving producing medical certs etcetera and take months.
“Separately spreading the poll out over several days also requires legislation. For example Tipperary [where a candidate died during the election] was not allowed to hold a separate poll in February as all votes had to be cast on the same day rather than days.”
Mr Cowen pointed out that Poland had cancelled its planned presidential election this week and was attempting to build cross-party consensus on how to hold a poll in the future.
“I didn't need to waste the time of officials to tell me any of [this],” he said.
Mr Murphy said that his Department “must prepare for every scenario” and insisted the plans were separate to the government formation process.
He said: “Covid19 is potentially here until 2021 or longer and it is our duty to be prepared for referendums, possible by elections and even a general election.
“This is completely separate to the government formation process underway which we are absolutely committed to. If we don’t prepare we risk far greater damage to our electoral process.”
Initial reports of the plan in the Irish Times, which detailed proposals to spread voting over a number of days, give “cocooners” a postal vote and allow polling in nursing homes, prompted an angry reaction from Fianna Fáil TDs. The party’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne branded the suggestion of polling in nursing homes being prioritised while the State is grappling with the Covid-19 crisis in homes as “utterly sick” on Twitter.
Mr Cowen said it was time for parties to get on with forming a government.