Row erupts over whether FG or FF will spark next election
A bitter blame game has erupted between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over which party will spark the next general election.
Senior sources on both sides have accused the other of seeking to undermine the Confidence and Supply Agreement amid speculation on whether or not it will be renewed after the next Budget.
One Fine Gael minister suggested that Fianna Fáil's "attack dogs" had been sent out to undermine the future talks on extending the deal before they start. It comes after Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen suggested it's unlikely his party will facilitate the Fine Gael-led minority government after the third Budget. "Its natural lifetime may be over," he said.
While some of his party colleagues publicly sought to row back on the remarks, others agreed with him or accused Fine Gael of seeking to precipitate an election.
There is suspicion within Fine Gael that Fianna Fáil are seeking an opportunity to cause an election.
A senior source said Micheál Martin's frontbench reshuffle, increasing Fianna Fáil criticism of the government's Brexit strategy, and Mr Cowen's remarks appeared to be part of a pattern in recent weeks.
They claimed "attack dogs" are being sent out to undermine future talks on extending Confidence and Supply.
A senior Fianna Fáil source said he personally has an "open mind" on extending the deal but warned the party is massively frustrated at the continuing crises in housing and health.
He said Mr Martin had made it clear any such talks on continuing the deal would take place after the Budget.
The source claimed indications that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar would like the talks to happen in advance are a "Fine Gael tactic to precipitate a problem". He said that if Fine Gael are serious about completing three Budgets "we will do it".
"If it collapses before that it's their fault not ours," he said, adding: "If an election happens we're ready."
Mr Cowen told RTÉ Radio his remarks were a "personal opinion". He added: "I can't speak for everybody else and I would hope that we would be in a position to strengthen and elongate the deal but if not so be it."
A Fianna Fáil spokesman did not respond directly when asked if Mr Cowen had consulted Mr Martin before he made his remarks on the future of the deal with Fine Gael. Instead he said: "The party leader has been consistent on this issue.
"The Confidence and Supply Agreement provides for three Budgets and a review after the third Budget. Our focus is on ensuring this Third Budget addresses the key problems in health and housing in a meaningful way."
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O'Dea meanwhile, played down Mr Cowen's intervention saying it's his view both sides should sit down for discussions on a Budget.
While he said "there is always scope" for extending the Confidence and Supply deal, he warned the party wants "significant improvements" in housing and health.
Culture Minister Josepha Madigan brushed aside Mr Cowen's comments saying: "He's entitled to his opinion."
She said there is no appetite for an election and there would "have to be a very good reason for us not to renegotiate".
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said his successor Mr Martin had been right to do the deal and support government in 2016 - but should quit once the three-year deal expired.
"They can't do it again - when the three years are up," Mr Ahern said.