Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael deal unlikely to be renewed, says Cowen

‘Natural lifetime’ of confidence and supply deal may be over after October budget

Fine Gael figures  believe an election within the next year is highly likely

Fine Gael figures believe an election within the next year is highly likely

 

A senior Fianna Fáil TD has said his party is unlikely to renew the confidence and supply deal with Fine Gael, increasing the prospects of an election within a year.

Barry Cowen, who was appointed Fianna Fáil spokesman on public expenditure by party leader Micheál Martin last week, said his party will have honoured the deal by facilitating a third budget, which is due to be introduced this October.

Mr Cowen is the first senior Fianna Fáil figure to publicly say it is unlikely the deal will be extended, although he added it was a matter for Mr Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

His statement reflects a view privately held across Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael figures also believe an election within the next year is highly likely.

Some Fianna Fáil TDs privately say a few weeks of talks on a potential successor deal will be held after the budget in order to allow the two parties to have a disagreement and a reason for an election.

The expectation of politicians and the public was that it wouldn’t last, but to get as far as it has is an achievement

However, one senior Fine Gael source recently told The Irish Times the party would not “hang around” if Fianna Fáil does not agree to a successor deal.

So far Mr Martin has only said the deal would be reviewed after the October budget, while Mr Varadkar has said he wants to open talks about an extension of the arrangement before then. Fine Gael figures have said they will approach Fianna Fáil on the issue before the summer.

Negotiator

Mr Cowen – who will be a key budget negotiator for Fianna Fáil – said it was likely that the deal which underpinned the minority Government arrangement would have reached its end after the October budget.

“Its natural lifetime may be over,” Mr Cowen told The Irish Times. “The expectation of politicians and the public was that it wouldn’t last, but to get as far as it has is an achievement.”

Mr Martin’s reshuffle of his front bench last week was widely seen as preparing for an election, with Mayo TD Dara Calleary appointed deputy leader and director of policy development.

Mr Cowen said: “No more than my leader, I want the budget to take place,” adding it would be “too easy to pull the plug”.

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe is expected to have over €3.2 billion to spend on tax cuts and spending increases in October, the biggest budget in years.

Opinion within Government has hardened recently against spending all of this money, however, because of fears of overheating the economy.

Numerous sources said they believed it was another example of Fianna Fáil opening up a further point of difference ahead of an election

Mr Cowen rejected this approach, and insisted Fianna Fáil would not be lured into a political trap of being accused of not learning the lessons of the past.

He said voters should be rewarded for their sacrifices during the years of austerity, and that Fianna Fáil should take credit for the budgetary measures.

Housing emergency

“The public has to see a reasonable, prudent but rewarding budget,” the Offaly TD said, with a focus on health and housing. “If we are in a housing emergency, as the Taoiseach now seems to accept we are, then emergency measures are needed.”

Mr Cowen said what he characterised as the “protracted, slow” approach of Fine Gael had not worked and more dramatic interventions were needed.

His statement comes as senior Government figures have been taken aback by Mr Martin’s recent criticisms of their Brexit policy. Numerous sources said they believed it was another example of Fianna Fáil opening up a further point of difference ahead of an election.