Fine Gael insists timing of election is Kenny’s call

Frances Fitzgerald says date is Taoiseach’s prerogative as Coalition tensions go public

 Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

As tensions between the Coalition parties over the timing of the election emerged in public, senior Fine Gael Ministers insisted the decision is the prerogative of Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Mr Kenny yesterday again refused to shut down growing speculation he will opt to hold the general election in November despite Tánaiste Joan Burton’s declaration that it should not take place until spring.

Last night Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, who is chair of Fine Gael’s election strategy committee, said the calling of an election is the sole responsibility of Mr Kenny.

“Clearly the calling of the election is the Taoiseach’s prerogative, that remains the case,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“That is just the fact of the situation. He is very conscious of the pressures and the responsibilities that come with that.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan also pointed to the Taoiseach’s entitlement to call the election on a date of his choosing.

“There is no constitutional or legal impediment to the Taoiseach acting unilaterally. It is a decision for him to make,” said Mr Flanagan.

The Taoiseach’s Mayo constituency colleague and Minister for Sport Michael Ring came out strongly in favour of a November election, but emphasised that Mr Kenny had not told him the date.

Labour colleagues

Speaking privately, a number of Fine Gael Ministers expressed the view that some Labour colleagues are more open to a November election than Ms Burton.

One said of Mr Kenny: “He’s not the type of man who likes to be told what to do.”

Labour sources, while acknowledging it is Mr Kenny’s prerogative to call the election, said they expected a conversation to take place first.

A Labour source said squabbling over the election date risks undermining the message of coherence both parties want to emphasise.

The junior Coalition partner also wants to ensure legislation giving effect to public sector pay rises is passed.

While a slimmed down Finance Bill is ready in case of an early election, Ms Burton has not prepared a slimmed down Social Welfare Bill.

Banking inquiry

One Labour figure also said “the notion that you would cut the banking inquiry off at the knees is unwise”.

The Taoiseach and Tánaiste discussed the timing of the general election yesterday morning, with Ms Burton insistent the election should be held in 2016.

Sources said Ms Burton had reacted badly to a report in The Irish Times that the Taoiseach was leaning strongly towards a November election.

Speaking at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce annual dinner in the Convention Centre last night, Mr Kenny did not give an indication as to when the election would be, but said “stability in politics brings confidence”, which in turn attracts investment and jobs.

In a speech that stuck closely to the theme of job creation and economic development, he said unemployment had been reduced from 15.2 per cent to 9.4 per cent but that 205,000 people remained out of work.

“Over the past five years we chose to prioritise job friendly policies,” he said and continued with signals the upcoming budget would also prioritise employment growth to break the cycle of poverty.

He spoke of the need to continue infrastructural investment, particularly in the Dublin region as the population expands.

Of all governments in the last 50 years, the Taoiseach said, this is the most open to business because “if it’s one, ten, 100 or 1,000 jobs we are interested”.

He said “deficits, bailouts and busts” were nouns, but “they are lived body and soul every day by those who they affect”.

On the capital investment plan, Mr Kenny said the reason it was capped at €27 billion is because this is the fiscal space the Government has.

“Whoever the people decide to give the reins of government to”, they will have significant capital to invest, he said.