Some in FG say Varadkar ‘conditioning’ public to expect an election soon

In the RDS on Sunday the Taoiseach again cited Dáil arithmetic as a potential determining factor in the calling of an election

Leo Varadkar: “The fundamental question when you’re in government is: are you able to govern? So as long as we can do that, we’re in government”

Leo Varadkar: “The fundamental question when you’re in government is: are you able to govern? So as long as we can do that, we’re in government”

 

The Taoiseach’s latest tease on the timing of a general election ought to provoke questions on his timing rather than the content of what he actually said.

Leo Varadkar’s statement that he could not rule out an election led to a tut-tutting from Fianna Fáil that such provocations are beneath the position of Taoiseach, while Independents in Government privately expressed concern about a snap election.

Yet Varadkar, in refusing to rule out an election before byelections are held to fill Dáil vacancies created by TDs who are elected to the European Parliament, did not say anything new.

He has repeatedly refused to rule out a general election on the basis that it is not in his gift to do so. As the leader of a government in an extreme minority position he has long warned that the attrition of politics could hinder his Government’s ability to get business through parliament.

“The fundamental question when you’re in government is: are you able to govern?” he said last Christmas. “So as long as we can do that, we’re in government.”

In the RDS on Sunday evening he again cited Dáil arithmetic as a potential determining factor in the calling of an election.

“As long as the Government can function and function well, we can get our job done and get our agenda through, well then there is no need for an election. But if that becomes a problem well then that changes things.”

Important events

Senior Fine Gael figures downplayed the prospect of an immediate general election unless it was forced on the Government, with Varadkar saying he would not call one “in the next couple of days or weeks”.

Sources said the Government has a number of important events on its agenda in the coming weeks, such as Richard Bruton’s All of Government Plan to Tackle Climate Disruption and the Summer Economic Statement.

The election of a number of TDs to the European Parliament will change the Dáil arithmetic as Varadkar had warned. To pass budgets under the terms of the confidence and supply arrangement the Government must have a majority in the Dáil when Fianna Fáil abstains.

The possible election of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs – Billy Kelleher and Frances Fitzgerald – as MEPs deprives the Government of a budget vote since Kelleher would abstain.

If Clare Daly or Mick Wallace, or both, become MEPs, two Opposition votes will leave the Dáil, and give the Government slightly more breathing space.

Writs for the pending byelections must be issued within six months of the first European Parliament sitting on July 2nd.

If a TD wins one of the Brexit reserve European Parliament seats the byelection must be held within six months of that person taking their seats after the UK leaves the EU.

The problem Varadkar has repeatedly warned of will arise if those byelections return a string of Opposition TDs, which would make it impossible for him to pass any legislation.

Arguments

Although there was a hint of diversion in the latest comments, some in Fine Gael said Varadkar was “conditioning” the public to expect an election soon, if not in the immediate future.

In his “conditioning” Varadkar is readying his arguments should he choose to call an election.

One Minister said a September contest, with the Dáil not even returning after the summer recess, was a real possibility, while another said an election was likely within six months.

Such a timeframe, however, could run up against the heat of a Brexit crisis if a new Tory prime minister threatens to take the UK out of the EU without a deal at the end of October unless changes are made to the existing withdrawal agreement and the backstop. The chances of an election in 2020 would then increase.

Intriguingly, Varadkar also said he took Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at his word that “he will continue to honour the confidence and supply arrangement until Brexit is resolved”.

“But we also need to bear in mind the possibility that Brexit may not be resolved for a very long time. The next deadline is October 31st. Who knows if there will be another one?”

His implication that a further extension to the Brexit negotiating period would allow for an election was left hanging.