Saturday 25 May 2019

Varadkar will use Brexit to guilt Fianna Fáil into deal

Micheál Martin has committed to one more budget. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Micheál Martin has committed to one more budget. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Ministers will try to guilt Fianna Fáil into extending the lifespan of the Government in order to ensure stability throughout the Brexit negotiations.

The UK is set to formally leave the European Union in March next year, around the same time many are predicting a general election here.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has committed to facilitating the passage of one more budget through the Dáil, which effectively stalls an election until early next year.

But there is a growing narrative in Government circles that having the country go to the polls on the eve of Brexit would be a dangerous manoeuvre.

Last night Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would like to negotiate on extending the agreement "because we will be heading into Brexit next March (then) we will be heading into local and European elections".

Already, Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan has expressed a preference to extend the confidence and supply arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil until at least next summer.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said yesterday he believes "that when we get into 2019, stability in the context of what will be happening with Brexit, in particular, will be really important".

"I hope discussions that take place later in the year can reflect that and deal with that," he said.

However, Fianna Fáil has ramped up its criticism of Mr Varadkar over his approach to Brexit in recent weeks.

The party's new Brexit spokesperson, Lisa Chambers, said yesterday she is concerned the Government is "not doing enough domestically to prepare for a hard Brexit".

"Our businesses and SMEs need to see more leadership, support and guidance from the Government in this regard," she said.

Mr Donohoe insisted the Government is "working well" and denied Fianna Fáil claims that his party is cosying up to Sinn Féin ahead of a general election.

The minister declined to criticise his colleague, Older People Minister Jim Daly, for raising the prospect of a Fine Gael/Sinn Féin coalition - but he emphatically stated: "Sinn Féin is not fit for government."

Mr Donohoe said he will work to ensure Fianna Fáil is in a position to back another budget and hopes for the confidence and supply deal to be extended. He will bring a Stability Programme Update to Cabinet next week which outlines his growth predictions.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Thomas Byrne said that the party is sticking to the text of the agreement with Fine Gael, adding: "It says three budgets and then a review thereafter. That's what's going to happen."

He insisted that Fianna Fáil has been "wearing the green jersey" on Brexit and has given "absolute support" to the Government on that issue at an international level while subjecting it to "rigorous scrutiny".

"We're not looking beyond the Budget at all. I just can't be clearer than that I think."

Irish Independent

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