Martin rules out election in 2019, saying it would not be in the national interest

‘Political chaos we see in London will not be allowed to spread to Ireland,’ Martin says

Leo Varadkar had asked Micheál Martin to agree to hold the next general election in the summer of 2020. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Leo Varadkar had asked Micheál Martin to agree to hold the next general election in the summer of 2020. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has agreed to a one-year extension of the confidence and supply agreement which underpins the Government.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Mr Martin said the chaos in the British political system meant that a no deal Brexit was now more likely.

“Circumstances have changed” and the Irish political system must respond to this, he said. “Business as usual is not acceptable.”

The decision to extend the agreement follows a series of meetings between negotiating teams from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the party leaders met to discuss the future of the agreement on Tuesday night.

Mr Martin said it is not in the national interest to have an election next year, and the offer from his party to the Government is “unprecedented for a minority government in its situation”.

“We’re in a time of heightened danger for Ireland as the risk of a no-deal Brexit increases,” he said.

His statement means that the next election will not be held until early 2020.

Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Martin said: “Fianna Fáil is determined that the political chaos we see in London will not be allowed to spread to Ireland.”

The deal he first entered into in spring 2016, he said, is “ending”.

“My party entered this agreement in 2016 because it was the only way of being true to what we had promised our voters while also fulfilling the basic democratic responsibility on any parliament to form a government,” he said.

Members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have been meeting in recent weeks to review the deal which has supported the minority Government for the best part of three years.

Review

Mr Martin said the review had identified serious issues in areas such as health and housing, but nevertheless said that an election in 2019 would not be in the national interest.

“We simply do not believe that the national interest could in any way be served by taking up to four months during next year to schedule and hold an election campaign and then form a government,” Mr Martin said.

”With business and communities already fearful about the impact of Brexit and with Ireland manifestly not ready for many of the potential outcomes, how could it possibly be in the national interest to have extended political uncertainty next year?

“This is why Fianna Fáil will extend a guarantee that government will be able to operate throughout 2019. This will allow the introduction of any emergency legislation and budgets, as well as the full end of year Budget and associated legislation. This will in turn allow the holding of an election early in the following year.

“Free of Brexit uncertainty there can be an election about the need for a new approach to housing, about ending systematic political failures in health and about addressing the needs of people who want a government which understands their concerns. This decision has been reached reluctantly but it is unavoidable.”

‘Provocations and difficulties’

He accused Fine Gael and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of “many provocations and difficulties”.

“This has included refusing to respond to the Taoiseach’s attempts over recent months to find an excuse to increase instability and undermine his own government.

“There has been no talk from us about oiling printers or careless talk about elections in the middle of sensitive negotiations.

“This is why in October we took the unprecedented decision to state that we would not support an election until at earliest some certainty on Brexit had been reached. No one can now seriously question that our decision was the right one for Ireland.

“This has ensured that we have been able to proceed with a detailed review of the implementation of the Confidence & Supply Arrangement. We refused to move straight to a negotiation and insisted on a deep review in critical areas including health, housing, education, Brexit and public finances.”

He said the review had “confirmed a complacency and lack of urgency in government”.

“There is no understanding that the public has a right to be concerned at near-systematic failures to deliver on housing, health and many other issues. Equally there has been an attempt to stonewall us in relation to basic information about fiscal reserves.

“While the Taoiseach has announced that there is no problem with an unfunded €3 billion tax give-away, his Minister for Finance will not justify this claim.

“The chronic deficit in delivery , the failure to understand public concerns, and the increased politicisation of public funding points to the need for a new government.”

He added that, in normal times, there would be no issue in holding an election.

“However these are not normal times and Ireland is immediately confronted with one of the biggest threats for many decades.

“It is a threat which is not just of a short-term nature; it impacts on the core economic, social and political future of this island.

“To replace this government requires a lengthy election campaign and most likely a lengthy period of government formation. In 2016 this entire process took four months to complete.”