Friday 17 January 2020

Varadkar 'rallies the troops' as Fine Gael get ready for snap poll in wake of UK election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Hugh O'Connell and John Downing

An election is on the cards for early next year after certainty was finally brought to the Brexit question.

Senior figures in all the main parties believe Boris Johnson's landslide victory has cleared the way for an election here, with polling likely in February.

The Irish Independent has learned that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told a private gathering of Fine Gael figures earlier this week that they need to come back after Christmas and "make history" by securing a third term.

Mr Varadkar's head of government policy will be seconded to Fine Gael HQ in January to spearhead the campaign.

Fianna Fáil, which committed to propping up the Government until the Brexit impasse was resolved, is also gearing up for a post-Christmas election.

"The game is on," a senior Fianna Fáil TD said. "I'd say there'll be an election in the month of February."

Mr Johnson is expected to bring the Brexit deal, which will include a trade border down the Irish Sea, back before the House of Commons next week.

With a new mandate and a Conservative majority of 80 seats, he should finally have enough support to take the UK out of the European Union on January 31. But the fallout from the ‘Brexit Election’ has firmly put Scottish independent and a united Ireland on the political agenda.

Senior figures in Fine Gael believe an election early in the new year is possible given the Government’s precarious position in Dáil votes, with February the most likely time.

“The numbers aren’t there and the Government is not in control of its own destiny after Christmas,” a Government insider said.

Record targeted: FG has a plan for Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Record targeted: FG has a plan for Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

One of Mr Varadkar’s closest aides and head of government policy, John Carroll, is set to move to Fine Gael HQ in January to spearhead the campaign. Mr Varadkar provided an update on election preparations at the Fine Gael staff Christmas party this week where his “make history” comments were described by one senior minister as “an attempt to rally the troops”.

Mr Varadkar has also reunited a number of ministers central to his leadership campaign, including Eoghan Murphy, Michael D’Arcy and John Paul Phelan. “It’s like the leadership election,” one of those involved said.

The Government party will seek to bounce back from a series of damaging controversies by dealing decisively with a number of internal issues in the coming weeks, including the future of Wexford candidate Verona Murphy and the Dara Murphy double-jobbing debacle.

Fine Gael will also argue it can be the only party trusted to manage the next stages of Brexit and defend its record on health and housing, which is likely to come under sustained attack from Fianna Fáil and other Opposition parties in the election campaign.

Campaign messaging to target Micheál Martin’s older and mostly male frontbench is being discussed within Fine Gael. Mr Martin’s time as health minister and the ministerial records of other Fianna Fáil TDs, such as Willie O’Dea and Éamon Ó Cuív, will also be targeted as could Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister in the FF-Green government, who could do another deal with Fianna Fáil.

Fine Gael ministers have also discussed issuing a stark warning to voters that Fianna Fáil will lead a radical left-wing government, possibly with Sinn Féin support.

“What’s emerging is likely to be the most left-wing government in the history of the state if Fine Gael isn’t in government,” a minister claimed.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he is prepared to meet with Mr Martin to discuss the timing of the election in the new year.

“That may be neither in my control or that of the leader of Fianna Fáil when you look at how tight the numbers were the last time,” the Taoiseach told reporters at the end of a leaders’ summit in Brussels.

The discussion followed comments on radio by Mr Martin, who said the UK general election landslide win for Mr Johnson, which finally unblocks Brexit, did not mean there should be an election here next January or February.

Mr Martin said there was still some outstanding important legislation which must be dealt with before any election.

The Taoiseach agreed the UK election result was not sufficient reason to call an election in Ireland. He said there was important work for the Government setting up negotiations for a new EU-UK trade deal and ensuring the power-sharing parliament and government were set up again in Belfast.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section