Thursday 22 March 2018

Labour and Fine Gael play down talk of early poll

Labour Leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton TD
Labour Leader and Tanaiste Joan Burton TD

Daniel McConnell and Niall O'Connor

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has told a private meeting of the Fine Gael parliamentary party to ignore speculation of an early election, saying: "Get on with your jobs."

After 24 hours of intense speculation that Mr Kenny was preparing to go the country early, the Taoiseach addressed the weekly meeting of the party.

"He said each TD and senator has a job to sell the merits of the Capital Plan and the Budget to the people. The boss told the meeting to ignore the speculation and get on with their jobs," said one source.

One TD, Derek Keating, said the speculation could become a distraction, while others spoke of the need to keep steady nerves.

Earlier in the day, the Labour Party moved to temper expectations of a November General Election, following a warning from former Environment Minister Phil Hogan that an early poll was on the cards.

Mr Hogan told an election-strategy meeting in Brussels that Fine Gael must be prepared for an election to be held before Christmas. The European Commissioner told colleagues that once the Government has delivered its final Budget, Mr Kenny may then decide to go to the polls.

The meeting was attended by up to 60 Fine Gael members, including MEPs and constituency organisers.

Last night, one senior Fine Gael source close to Mr Kenny said he was of the view that there was a 70pc chance of an early election.

However, Tánaiste Joan Burton insisted the Government will "stay the course".

She said: "My knowledge of the Taoiseach is that he is a man who is careful with money. He is unlikely to throw a €50 bet away, as was thrown down yesterday. Even in the scheme of things, it is a relatively small amount.

"No, we stay the course and, as far as I am aware, that is the Taoiseach's position because we have a lot of lifting to do to help people. We will be doing that in the context of the Budget."

Last night she told her party's weekly private meeting that Labour's annual conference will take place in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, in January. Her announcement was seen as a further means of dampening down talk of an early election.

Irish Independent

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