Sunday 26 January 2020

Some ministers already fighting election as all eyes on Varadkar’s meeting with Martin

Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin
Leo Varadkar and Micheal Martin
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

THE Cabinet is having one of its away-day adventures in North Dublin today - a special meeting on the very worthy topic of disability services.

But it's the meeting between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin later this evening that will get the most attention.

The pair are to sit down in a bid to agree an election date.

This could be challenging given the demands the Fine Gael leader has made of Mr Martin.

He wants Fianna Fáil to agree to vote with the government on occasion given the tightening Dáil numbers, something Mr Martin has already rejected.

And the Rural Independents' threatened motion of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris has focused minds on just how soon the government could be brought down in the absence of a deal.

Some ministers that stopped to answer reporters' questions on the way into Cabinet were already fighting the election.

The embattled Mr Harris hit out at the record of the last Fianna Fáil government pointing to spiralling unemployment during the economic crash and cuts to the number of hospital beds and nurses.

It came after he was challenged on whether Fine Gael's support has begun to slide in the wake of controversies over the botched Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) commemoration and the Dáil attendance of former TD Dara Murphy.

He argued that the economic indicators show the country going in the right direction and that "in Leo Varadkar we have the right leader to steer the ship" through the next phase of Brexit.

Mr Harris brushed aside the motion of no confidence that Independent Michael Collins wants to table saying he has no confidence in the Cork South West TD either.

And he referenced this evening's meeting between Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin saying: "What is very clear is that the timing of this election will be decided by the Taoiseach in consultation with the leader of the Opposition."

He said: "those talks will get underway today. But one way or another we’re going to have an election in Ireland in the not too distant future.

"I’m looking forward to having an opportunity during that election of putting forward our vision for the health service and for the country".

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan again defended his role in the RIC controversy saying he had proposed the commemoration with "the best of intentions".

On election speculation he said he has a lot of work he wants to do in justice in the coming weeks including the Perjury Bill and the Judicial Appointments Bill.

Asked if he would tell the Taoiseach he didn't want an early election he replied:

"No I’m satisfied there is going to be an election over the next few months."

The meeting is taking place in the Marino Institute of Education in Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath's constituency.

He has been briefing colleagues on the plans for disabilities services in 2020.

Speaking beforehand he hit out at the Rural Independents threat of a no confidence motion accusing them of "political game playing".

He told them to "cop on" and said; “We all know there's going to be election in 2020, let's have it after Easter, but let us finish the job."

He said he has a Disabilities Bill he wants to pass and wants to get the Cystic Fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital “over the line”.

The unit which is in the planning and design phase is of course in Mr McGrath's constituency - no harm for him to mention ahead of what is always a tough election battle in Dublin Bay North.

Reflecting on his time as Disabilities Minister, Mr McGrath said he's most proud of increasing funding to the area up to €2bn this year and ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Asked if he had a message for Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin ahead of the meeting this evening, he said: "I think they should do the sensible thing and the sensible thing is to have the election after Easter."

All eyes are on that meeting tonight.

Online Editors

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