Friday 22 November 2019

Kenny told: plot autumn snap election

FG ministers eye autumn poll to cash in on economic recovery

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Philip Ryan and Jody Corcoran

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is facing growing demands in Fine Gael to call an early general election to allow the party to win as many seats as possible on the back of the economic recovery.

The Sunday Independent has learned that some Fine Gael ministers believe Mr Kenny should go to the country in the autumn.

Yesterday, one minister even suggested the Budget should be brought forward to September and Mr Kenny could dissolve the Dail immediately after it is passed.

The moves follow the outcome of the UK general election, which has increased Fine Gael optimism that voters are prepared to handsomely reward the party.

The British Conservative Party, which also came to office after the economic crash, secured a stunning victory last week on the back of recovery there.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Kenny went early - September or October," a Fine Gael minister said yesterday. Another minister said: "The Dail will be back in the second week of September - you could have your Budget that week and then call the election."

However, such a move would anger Labour, which this weekend insisted the Government should see out its full term. The near obliteration of the Conservatives' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, has sent shockwaves through Labour here, with many fearing a similar fate.

Two Fine Gael ministers, Leo Varadkar and Paschal Donohoe, yesterday also said the Government should run full term.

But the Sunday Independent has learned that, behind the scenes, senior Fine Gael figures - including ministers and key advisers - now believe Mr Kenny should "cut and run" this autumn.

Renewed speculation about the election will add to evident tensions between Fine Gael and Labour.

Last week, Finance Minister Michael Noonan referred to some unemployed as "allergic to work", a phrase that annoyed the Labour leadership. There are also sharp divisions over Labour's demands to amend the insolvency laws, and in Fine Gael there is strong opposition to Labour's priority to restore public sector pay.

Labour leader Joan Burton is said to remain determined that the Government see out its full term.

But there is an increased appetite in the senior ranks of Fine Gael for an autumn election. "They are factoring in a late autumn election," a senior Government source confirmed yesterday. "The way they are thinking is to have the Budget first and have the election immediately afterwards," he said.

A Fine Gael minister said: "Do you go with the expectation of the extra money or wait till it's in their pockets - that's the decision for the Taoiseach."

The minister added: "It will be between himself and (Michael) Noonan, but I can assure you one thing - the election will be well over before the 1916 Rising Commemorations next April."

Yesterday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Sunday Independent: "Mr Cameron went full term and it seemed to work out for him."

And Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said: "The Government should, and will, go full term."

But Fine Gael sources remained adamant yesterday that Mr Kenny should weigh up the options - and go to the country if he felt the party would benefit.

Yesterday Labour Senator John Whelan said he found it "interesting" that senior figures were comparing Fine Gael to "the Thatcherite Tories". He pointed to different electoral systems in the UK and Ireland to back his belief that Labour here would not suffer a similar fate to the Liberal Democrats. He said neither Ms Burton nor deputy Labour leader Alan Kelly were so "naive" as to allow the party to end up the "whipping boys". Senator Whelan also said he did not believe it was in Fine Gael's interests to "undermine" Labour.

Labour strategists said they were now planning to "take the ownership" of economic recovery out of the hands of Fine Gael, who many in the party believe have unfairly reaped most of the electoral benefits.

A senior Government adviser yesterday said Fine Gael had begun using "election-style messages", even through canvassing had not officially started. This was evident when Mr Noonan sparked anger in Labour after he said some unemployed people were "allergic to work".

The Coalition is facing into another bitter row as Mr Howlin begins pay talks with public sector unions later this month.

The Taoiseach was faced down at a parliamentary party meeting last week over suggestions Labour was prepared to hike public sector wages by €800 a year.

At the meeting Dublin Bay South TD Eoghan Murphy demanded to know what Fine Gael's approach was to the pay talks. He opposed the Government's strategy, and warned the Taoiseach to be "very careful" when increasing wages for the public sector.

Mr Murphy said he was pleased the economy was recovering, but said it was "galling" that the public sector unions were insisting on pay increases when the private sector had yet to feel the benefits of the upturn, according to sources. He also highlighted difficulties convincing teachers to accept reforms of the Junior Certificate and the recent bus strikes as examples of the unions resisting reforms implemented by the Coalition.

When approached by the Sunday Independent Mr Murphy refused to comment on what was said at the meeting. However, he said he would be "more comfortable" spreading the benefits of the recovery through tax cuts and insisted spending on the public sector should be focused on services.

It is understood Mr Kenny sought to allay fears by insisting any pay hikes would be closely monitored by an independent oversight body.

Cork TD Tom Barry said he has repeatedly called for USC to be phased out rather than introduce pay increases.

"You can't cut taxes and increase pay. It would be fair and equitable to all aspects of society and bring social cohesion to focus on reducing the USC," Mr Barry told the Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent

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