Sunday 26 January 2020

Varadkar's plea: give me four more months

Taoiseach turns to controversial Independents Grealish and Lowry

Talking politics: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath at the Cabinet meeting at the Marino Institute, Dublin. PHOTO: GARETH CHANEY/COLLINS
Talking politics: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath at the Cabinet meeting at the Marino Institute, Dublin. PHOTO: GARETH CHANEY/COLLINS

Philip Ryan and Cormac McQuinn

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will turn to controversial Independent TDs Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry in a bid to cling to power for the next four months.

Mr Varadkar is under pressure from his ministers to put distance between recent controversies, including the Black and Tans debacle, and the forthcoming general election.

Mr Varadkar said he would spend the coming days speaking to his party, Independent ministers and also Independent TDs who had supported the Government in the past, in an attempt to remain in power.

This will include Mr Grealish, whom the Taoiseach has criticised for his comments on migrants, and Mr Lowry, who has been convicted of a tax offence.

The move means Mr Varadkar has dropped his demand that Fianna Fáil supports the Government on crucial votes in return for him agreeing to an election date.

Last night, Mr Varadkar met Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and discussed legislation that could be passed if the Dáil was to return next week. They have agreed to hold further talks next week.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael was given a significant election boost as it emerged economic growth is expected to soar this year after a no-deal Brexit was avoided.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe expects growth to be 3.9pc this year, with an estimated Budget surplus of around €2.4bn.

At the hour-long meeting between the two party leaders, both sides set out their legislative priorities and agreed to consider each others proposals. The meeting was said to have been "cordial" and "amicable", with both sides agreeing there was basis for a further discussions.

They also discussed whether Mr Martin could guarantee the support of his entire party on important votes.

In a joint statement released afterwards, the two parties said it had been a "constructive meeting".

"They discussed Dáil numbers and possible legislative proposals which could be passed in a further Dáil session," it said.

"They agreed to consider matters further and to meet again next week."

It came after the future of the minority Government was thrown into fresh doubt after three rural Independent TDs threatened to table a motion of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris.

The motion, which would be put before the Dáil on February 5, was proposed by TDs Michael Collins, Mattie McGrath and Michael Healy-Rae.

Yesterday, Mr Healy-Rae called on Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar to end the election debate and agree to have the vote on February 1 or 2.

Mr Martin has said there was "no question" of his party supporting the Government in confidence motions.

The Taoiseach said he considered a motion of no confidence in one of his ministers to be a judgment on the whole of Government.

This would imply that if the vote of confidence in Mr Harris was lost, it would result in the Dáil being dissolved.

Before Christmas, Mr Varadkar said he did not believe he had the numbers to run a stable government without Mr Martin committing to supporting him on crucial votes.

However, yesterday he appeared to change his stance by saying the Dáil could continue with Mr Martin's party abstaining in votes rather than supporting the Government.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting, he said: "It is the case that with Fianna Fáil continuing to abstain that the Government can continue and that we have, I believe, sufficient votes to get our legislative programme through, but obviously the numbers are also very precarious.

"I need to consult with Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance, other independent ministers, independents who support the Government and indeed other parties - that's where the situation lies," he added.

The move means the Taoiseach may have to entirely rely on Mr Lowry and Mr Grealish to pass legislation or survive confidence motions.

Neither TD responded to requests for comment on whether they would continue to back the Government.

However, one Cabinet minister said last night he was "100pc sure" they would.

Meanwhile, Roscommon TD Denis Naughten, who also supports the Government, said he had yet to decide whether he would vote with the Government on confidence motions.

Inevitable

He said he was waiting to see the outcome of the meeting between the two leaders.

In response to questions about the motion of no confidence in him, Mr Harris yesterday said: "I do think we are arriving at a point where an election becomes inevitable pretty quickly."

The minister said the election debate now centred on whether to have the vote within the next four weeks or within the next 14 weeks.

However, other ministers and TDs are far less eager to go to the polls in the aftermath of the controversy surround the planned State commemoration for Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) and Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) officers.

The public backlash over the postponed commemoration resulted in voters inundating offices of Fine Gael TDs with complaints.

"The complaints were coming from right across the board - it was not from just one political persuasion," a minister said yesterday.

Fine Gael is holding a parliamentary party meeting and the election date debate is expected to be discussed.

Mr Martin is also set to come under pressure from his own TDs to pull Fianna Fáil's support from the Government and go the polls. Yesterday, senior Fianna Fáil TDs were insisting they should strike while Fine Gael was still damaged from the RIC debacle and the hospital trolley crisis was hitting record numbers.

Irish Independent

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