Leo Varadkar rules out autumn general election

FF rejects Taoiseach’s request for early negotiations on extension of agreement

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Inis Meáin, Aran Islands: ‘I’m not proposing to go to the Phoenix Park next week or the week after and have an election before the budget, not at all.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Inis Meáin, Aran Islands: ‘I’m not proposing to go to the Phoenix Park next week or the week after and have an election before the budget, not at all.’ Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not intend to call an election despite Fianna Fáil’s rejection of his request for early negotiations on an extension of the confidence-and-supply agreement.

Asked in an interview with The Irish Times if Micheál Martin’s refusal to engage in negotiations until after the budget was unacceptable to him, Mr Varadkar replied: “It’s not unacceptable. I’m not proposing to go to the Phoenix Park next week or the week after and have an election before the budget, not at all.”

Later, Mr Varadkar added: “I’m not going to call an election. But I think it’s going to make it harder to agree an extension, or to agree a new confidence-and-supply agreement if we’re trying to do that in October, in the run-up to the presidential election, in the run-up to a potentially very difficult period, when we’re trying to agree the Brexit agreement, and when the Dáil is sitting.

“It’s always a more politically charged atmosphere – people scoring points in the Dáil, committee hearings, parliamentary party hearings every week. It’s not a good environment I think, and I would have preferred if we had been able to do that in July, during the recess. I would still prefer if we could do that now in September.

“But ultimately, if Fianna Fáil isn’t willing to do that, they’re not.”

Mr Varadkar has sought, in talks with Mr Martin in July and a letter sent to the Fianna Fáil leader last week, an extension of the agreement until the summer of 2020.

Shorter extension

Asked if he would be interested in discussing a shorter extension to the deal, Mr Varadkar said: “I’m not going to have those negotiations through the media. And I know deputy Martin is a little bit sensitive about being spoken to through the media. So we’ve had a meeting in July. We agreed we’d have another meeting in September and my offer stands – that I want to begin those discussions right away, appoint negotiating teams, and what I’m proposing is that we agree a policy programme that the Government would implement over the next two years and that we agree a date for a general election in the summer of 2020.”

However, Fianna Fáil remains firm in its refusal to discuss an extension to the confidence-and-supply agreement.

Government Ministers again pressed the case yesterday for an early extension of the arrangement, but Fianna Fáil frontbenchers rebuffed the Taoiseach’s advances, as the two parties continued to trade barbs.

The Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring said no Government could be looking over its shoulder, wondering if Fianna Fáil will or will not support it.

But Cavan-Monaghan Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth accused Mr Varadkar of trying to pull “another publicity stunt”.

Talks

Talks between the two parties on the next budget got under way, however, at Government Buildings yesterday when Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath and public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen met the Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe.

Going into the talks, Mr McGrath said his party would be seeking a number of measures in the budget, including additional funding for affordable housing and for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which helps to shorten hospital waiting lists.

The Taoiseach’s comments on an early election are likely to ease the nerves of Fine Gael TDs and Senators who are meeting in Galway on Thursday and Friday for the party’s annual think-in before the Dáil resumes later this month.