Election talk abates as politicians head off on holiday

Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity as Fine Gael continues to select candidates

Leo Varadkar: were he to call an election in September he  would be throwing the leadership of the country into doubt at precisely the time of greatest sensitivity in Brexit

Leo Varadkar: were he to call an election in September he would be throwing the leadership of the country into doubt at precisely the time of greatest sensitivity in Brexit

 

The big clearout from Leinster House was a fortnight ago when the Dáil adjourned for the summer recess. The Cabinet had its final meeting on Wednesday of last week. It reconvenes in early September.

After a long political term dominated by Brexit and abortion, and which finished in a welter of speculation about an early election, Ministers, TDs and Senators, officials, advisers and spin doctors scattered gratefully in recent days.

And while both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have accelerated electoral preparations in recent weeks, high-ranking sources in both parties acknowledge that the prospect of a general election has receded.

“The election talk has died down alright,” said one Minister. “We’ll be ready in September if someone pushes the button, but the expectation is that Fianna Fáil will offer to extend the [confidence and supply] deal for one budget.”

Two other Ministers privately confirmed his view.

“If you asked me four or five weeks ago I’d have said that Leo is gung-ho for an election,” said one minister. “But I think the pendulum has swung back now. I think he fears the public reaction if there was an election.”

However, another Fine Gael figure close to Mr Varadkar said he believed the Taoiseach would call an election if he does not get sufficient guarantees from Fianna Fáil about stability for a further two years. This chimes with the view he shared with Ministers at a recent Cabinet meeting in Derrynane House, Co Kerry.

“The Taoiseach said ‘right let’s talk a bit of politics’ and he outlined the need for stability over the Brexit period,” said one person who was present.

The following day Mr Varadkar met Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in Kerry, and discussed the future of their confidence and supply agreement. Mr Varadkar mooted an agreed 2020 date for an election. Mr Martin was non-committal. They agreed to meet again in September.

Appropriate time

In interviews over the weekend, the Fianna Fáil leader again pointed to the end of the year as the appropriate time for considering whether the agreement should be reconsidered.

Fine Gael wants to do it in September, citing the need for stability during Brexit negotiations.

The [rather substantial] hole in the Taoiseach’s arguments about the need for stability at this crucial phase is that he already has a guarantee from Fianna Fáil not to bring the Government down this year.

Were he to call an election in September, Mr Varadkar would be throwing the leadership of the country into doubt at precisely the time of greatest sensitivity in Brexit – the run-up to the October summit and the end-of-year deadline for conclusion of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop. That would be hard to explain.

Nonetheless, election preparations continue apace. Recent weeks have seen a flurry of activity in Fine Gael, with a series of constituency conventions and candidate additions announced. The convention in Cork South West was held on Saturday night, Donegal the night before.

Last week the party added Senator Catherine Noone to the ticket in Dublin Bay North, where she will stand as running mate to Minister for Education Richard Bruton, a long-time TD for the area.

Earlier this month party headquarters added Mary Newman as a candidate in Tipperary. The five-seat constituency is Fine Gael’s number one target for a seat gain. The party currently has no sitting TD there. Ms Newman, who will run with Garret Ahearn, is a sister of the Fine Gael TD for Dublin Bay South Kate O’Connell.

Ticket

In Cork North Central the party added Julie O’Leary, a barrister and lecturer in University College Cork, to the ticket alongside Senator Colm Burke.

In Meath West the party added Kells councillor Sarah Reilly to run alongside Minister of State Damien English and Senator Ray Butler, who were previously selected at convention.

In Wexford, Fine Gael is expected to ask Verona Murphy, president of the Irish Road Hauliers Association, to join its general election ticket.

Ms Murphy is managing director of DruMur Transport in Ramsgrange, Co Wexford, where she lives.

She said she had made no decision. “I’m not considering it at the moment, but I’m not ruling it out. If it was something in the future I might consider it.”

Senior party sources said, however, that they expected her to join Junior Ministers and sitting Fine Gael TDs Paul Kehoe and Michael Darcy on the ticket in a bid to win a third seat in the five-seat constituency.

However, party sources played down speculation that publisher and former Dragon’s Den panellist Norah Casey would stand for Fine Gael in Dublin South West. The party considers the five-seat constituency, where Colm Brophy currently holds a Fine Gael seat, its strongest prospect of a gain in Dublin.

Ms Casey did not respond to a message.