FG statement accuses FF of damaging government formation talks

Varadkar had objected directly to Martin about attacks by Fianna Fáil TDs on the Government over election contingency plans

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo  Varadkar:  the pair  were in contact on Saturday night

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: the pair were in contact on Saturday night

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar objected directly to Micheál Martin about attacks by Fianna Fáil TDs on the Government before Fine Gael on Sunday released a statement accusing Fianna Fáil of damaging the government formation process.

Senior Fine Gael figures are now suggesting that Mr Martin should publicly disassociate himself from comments made by party TDs Barry Cowen and Thomas Byrne over government election contingency plansrevealed in The Irish Times on Saturday.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin were in contact on Saturday night, and some in Fine Gael suggested that Mr Martin had time to take action prior to the Fine Gael statement being released on Sunday.

Fianna Fáil sources said that, in response to a text, Mr Martin had offered a phonecall with Mr Varadkar on Sunday morning but this was not taken up.

Talks are continuing between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens on government formation, and the three party leaders will meet today (Monday). Mr Martin requested the meeting to discuss the slow pace of talks and leaks to the media.

The Government says the election contingency plan being drawn up – including spreading voting over a number of days, giving “cocooners” a postal vote, and allowing polling in nursing homes – will also apply to potential referendums and byelections.

Fianna Fáil was unaware of the plans, and party sources insisted it should have been told.

Mr Cowen claimed Fine Gael was acting in “bad faith”, and suggested it was “putting party before country”.

Mr Byrne, the Fianna Fáil education spokesman, claimed it was “utterly sick” to link nursing homes to suggestions of an election.

A senior Fine Gael source said: “If we are in government in a few weeks’ time and Barry Cowen accuses FG of being unpatriotic, either he’ll be resigning or all FG ministers will be.

“And if Thomas Byrne is a junior minister and attacks a Fine Gael colleague as being ‘sick’, a withdrawal and apology will be expected.”

A Fianna Fáil source said confidence and supply was over, and that Mr Martin’s party was now in opposition. “We have to hold them to account,” the source said.

It was also suggested by numerous Fianna Fáil sources that Mr Byrne was being targeted because he had highlighted difficulties with the Leaving Cert in recent weeks.

Doing their job

After Simon Coveney and Dara Calleary, the two deputy leaders of the parties, attempted to calm the issue, Fine Gael released a statement on Sunday, claiming officials were only doing their job, and that the attacks by Mr Cowen and Mr Byrne were “unwarranted” and “damaged” the talks process.

The statement also singled out Mr Cowen on comments he made recently suggesting a referendum on land prices would be held by a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael government, suggesting he “had recently claimed falsely that both parties had agreed to hold a referendum within weeks of forming a government, presumably during a pandemic”.

There was concern on Sunday night across Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about the lack of trust between the two traditional rivals.