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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wage phoney war

Inside Politics: Varadkar and Martin are circling one another over renewal of the confidence and supply agreement

The Taoiseach is seeking to give himself the grounds for an autumn election. Photograph: Reuters

Oh what another beautiful morning.

Last week we advised readers to enjoy the weather because it wouldn’t last. Shows you how much we know. About meteorology any way.

Another story that has had a longer-than-expected shelf life is the off-the-ball digging and elbowing between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over the possible renewal of the confidence and supply agreement and its counter-factual, a general election.

It continues in our lead story today.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is in New York where he and Bono are doing a duet seeking a place for Ireland on the UN Security Council.

Asked by reporters if he was planning for an early general election, Mr Varadkar pooh-poohed the notion. He refused to be drawn on the speculation around an election, saying he has been “extremely busy” in the past couple of weeks “doing the people’s business” and his focus was “very much on the business of government”.

I mean, the very idea the Taoiseach would be plotting an early election is almost unworthy of an airing, you understand.

Stuff and nonsense, of course. The Taoiseach is seeking to give himself the grounds for an autumn election. Only he and his closest intimates can answer whether he is merely seeking to give himself the option, or if he has definitively decided to go for the autumn.

The timing of when to call a general election is a Taoiseach’s call. It is one that is often called wrong, with severe consequences. Arguably the last two Fine Gael taoisigh, Enda Kenny in 2015 and John Bruton in 1997, got the timing wrong (both times at the behest of the Labour Party, mind you).

There is no single view among his Ministers. Some tell him fortune favours the bold; others urge caution. But they are all on message to bash Fianna Fáil, while simultaneously calling for that party to renew the confidence and supply agreement in the interests of stability.

As a tactic, it has the virtue of newsworthiness, if not of consistency.

Fianna Fail says: hold on - he hasn’t even asked us yet. They have a point. The fact is that Varadkar and Martin are circling one another like two lions about to fight.

OK, it might look a bit like a phoney war. The thing about the phoney war in 1939-40, though, is that it was followed by the real thing.

Brexit news

To Westminster now, where Her Majesty’s Government continues its bold and clear-sighted approach to Brexit.

As our London correspondent Denis Staunton reports today, Ms May has embarked on a bold new strategy to . . . well, that’s not happening at all, is it?

Rather, leaks yesterday suggested a third way - a combination of the fuzzy "maximum facilitation" (maxfac) and customs partnership approaches that have already drawn a cool response from the EU. Denis explains here.

Characteristically, Ms May responded by agreeing with all sides in the Commons and calling on the EU to show flexibility .

Meanwhile, the DUP has accused the Taoiseach and the EU of trying to bully the UK.

Business as usual in Westminster, in other words.

The next step is for Ms May to get her cabinet’s agreement for her new proposals. She has done this before, of course. But only by making the proposals inherently contradictory - sort of in but also sort of out. That’s not going to fly in Brussels, and she knows it.

By next week, we will either be in the middle of another British fudge, or the talks will have reached a stalemate. Or (less likely this) she will have faced down the hard Brexiteers in her cabinet and definitively set a course to stay as close to the single market and customs union as makes no difference. That would doubtless mean a Cabinet split. Resignations will be the sign that she has made a decision; their absence the opposite.

There are some who admire Ms May’s delicate balancing act, and it is true that looked at in one way, it is an act of virtuoso political tight-rope walking.

More apposite, though, is a world cup analogy. Mrs May is the Portuguese penalty taker. People are saying: in fairness to the lad, he hasn’t missed the penalty. But that’s only because he hasn’t taken it yet.

Best reads

Missing boys found alive in flooded cave in Thailand: This is an amazing story.

Brian Feeney has a very good piece on the background to Drew Harris's work in the PSNI, and Republicans' attitude to him in the North.

Fiona Reddan on the "forever renters".

Fintan O'Toole continues his warnings about the rise of modern fascism.

Our editorial on President Michael D Higgins: he should set out his stall for a second term.

Derek Scally reports from Berlin that Angela Merkel has reached a deal with her rebellious interior minister on refugees. She struggles on.

In the Guardian, Simon Jenkins says this is the week that Ms May must face down Tory Brexit rebels.

In the Spectator, Robert Peston considers Ms May's chances from another perspective. "It is", he writes, "wholly irrelevant for now whether the rest of the EU will wear and approve the likely Swiss-style hybrid - of effectively staying in single market and customs union for goods and agriculture and withdrawing to an extent for services". Lord help us.


There’s no meeting of the Cabinet today because of the Taoiseach’s New York gallivanting.

But the Dail meets at 2pm for leaders’ questions followed by the order of business, oral questions to Paschal Donohoe and then a long list of Government legislation - until 11.30pm tonight, if you don’t mind.

It's the same in the Seanad, where the Bills being debated include our old friend the Judicial Appointments Bill. Full list of Dail, Seanad and committees here.

Otherwise the half-year exchequer figures are out this afternoon, with a briefing from officials in the Department of Finance.

Housing minister Eoghan Murphy is hosting a housing summit with the chief execs of local authorities. Progress will be reported, and disputed.

So that’s it for today? Not quite. After last night’s dramatic win for the EU, er Belgium, in the World Cup last 16 game, it’s England’s turn tonight when they take on Colombia. England expects. Everyone else watches with interest. Expect Brexit metaphors whatever the outcome. Enjoy the game. And, as ever, have a frightfully fruity day.