Thursday 23 January 2020

Fianna Fáil mulling one-year deal with FG in 'national interest to avoid Brexit election'

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin saw his party trail their rivals by 13pc at the weekend. Photo: Mark Condren
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin saw his party trail their rivals by 13pc at the weekend. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Fianna Fáil chiefs have discussed extending the confidence and supply arrangement by one year - rather than the two demanded by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Relations between the two parties are continuing to deteriorate amid rows over how a potential extension to the minority Government's lifespan should be negotiated.

Fianna Fáil remains furious over reports that emerged from a meeting last week during which Mr Varadkar suggested both sides agree to an election in summer 2020.

But Fine Gael remains buoyed by a weekend opinion poll which put it 13pc clear of Micheál Martin's party.

Sources in Fianna Fáil have told the Irish Independent that a two-year extension would be "hard to swallow" for its backbenchers and grassroots supporters.

However, they acknowledge that Brexit makes the timing of an election very complicated.

Key negotiations are scheduled for October and the UK is destined to leave the EU next March.

Fianna Fáil's hierarchy accepts that there is a "national interest" case in not having an election during this period.

But it does not want to be perceived as keeping Mr Varadkar in power during a housing and health crisis.

Such a view among the public would play into the hands of Sinn Féin, which claims to be the real Opposition.

One senior Fianna Fáil TD said the party feels "trapped between being responsible and leaving Varadkar in power".

They insisted the Taoiseach is trying to appear reasonable in public while simultaneously working behind the scenes to cause an election.

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy yesterday criticised efforts by Fianna Fáil to delay detailed talks on an extension of the deal.

While the Taoiseach has asked for talks to begin in earnest over the summer months, Mr Martin has refused to budge from his belief that no such negotiations should take place until after October's Budget.

"We believe the important thing we need is a Government of stability.

"That's what we want. We don't know what Fianna Fáil wants," Mr Murphy said.

"We don't know why we should have to wait until the end of the year to know what it wants to do. It's too important now with Brexit.

"October is a very, very important month for the Government. People shouldn't expect us to be negotiating Brexit in Europe with the UK and at the same time trying to negotiate the next two years of government. We'd like to do that sooner rather than later."

Until recent weeks, Fianna Fáil had been largely supportive of the Government's strategy on Brexit.

But in a growing trend of attack, Mr Martin last night said the Taoiseach had "wasted valuable time on a doomed manoeuvre".

He said the Government focused too heavily on trying to ensure a relationship between the UK and EU which would be so close that the Border problem would become irrelevant.

"I have no doubt that key elements of this strategy have clearly failed and were a mistake in the first place - something which was pointed out at the time.

"In fact, I was attacked by the Taoiseach 12 months ago for suggesting that Ireland should propose a separate North/south arrangement.

"We wasted valuable time on a doomed manoeuvre to use the backstop to cover the whole of the UK and the massive over-hype of one part of last December's agreement has caused serious damage.

"When Michel Barnier pleads for the de-dramatising of the backstop we all know where most of the drama was generated," Mr Martin said.

He said UK Prime Minister Theresa May had made it clear last week that the backstop "as understood in Dublin is incapable of securing a majority in the British government and parliament".

Read more: Varadkar has the advantage in this slow bicycle race towards an election

Read more: FF leader: deal with FG hinges on delivery, not Taoiseach's timetable

Read more: Fianna Fail to announce in September plans to contest elections in Northern Ireland

Irish Independent

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