Taoiseach challenges Fianna Fáil to agree to summer 2020 election

Varadkar responds to Martin plan that they should ‘commit not to collapse Government until Brexit deal reached’

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “I think it is best if we both state upfront, irrespective of what happens during the confidence and supply review process, that we both agree not to bring down the Government”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin wrote to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “I think it is best if we both state upfront, irrespective of what happens during the confidence and supply review process, that we both agree not to bring down the Government”.

 

The best way to provide stability for the country as Brexit takes effect is for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to agree to hold the next election in the summer of 2020, a spokesman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Earlier, Fianna Fáil released the letter Mr Martin wrote to Mr Varadkar proposing that both commit not to collapse the Government until the final Brexit settlement has been reached.

Mr Martin said this would include ratification of any Brexit deal by the UK House of Commons and the European Parliament. The European Parliament is expected to vote on the deal in early March 2019.

In response, Mr Varadkar’s spokesman said the “best way to guarantee” there will not be an election is to start talks on an extension of the confidence and supply deal and “take them forward promptly, allowing the current arrangement to continue providing stable government until at least the summer of 2020”.

“Fine Gael is focused on renegotiating the Confidence and Supply Agreement and agreeing its extension until the summer of 2020, as set out in the Taoiseach’s letter of August 31st to Micheál Martin.”

“The Government’s overriding priority at this point is securing a good Withdrawal Agreement in the Brexit negotiations and preventing the return of a hard border on this island. So the Government wants to avoid an election at this crucial time.

“The best way to guarantee that there won’t be an election is to start talks and take them forward promptly, allowing the current arrangement to continue providing stable government until at least the summer of 2020.

“The Taoiseach looks forward to meeting with Micheal Martin next week to take these matters further.”

Mr Martin had asked Mr Varadkar to agree that no election should be held until the final Brexit deal is passed by both the European Parliament and House of Commons.

“In light of recent developments and as we head into this critical period on Brexit I think it is best if we both state upfront, irrespective of what happens during the confidence and supply review process, that we both agree not to bring down the Government,” he wrote in his letter to Mr Varadkar.

“In light of recent developments and as we head into this critical moment on Brexit, I think it best if we both state upfront, irrespective of what happens during the confidence and supply review process, that we both agree not to bring down the Government.”

“We should both agree to pass the Finance Bill and other legislation at least up to the point where, whatever is agreed by the European Council on Brexit, in the coming months, has cleared the critical hurdle of ratification by the House of Commons and the European Parliament.

“The Irish people would, I am sure you would agree be rightly concerned at any risk that a general election campaign would have on these talks at such a critical period and an uncertain post-election situation.

“An election during this critical time would create dangerous instability during a period when the Brexit deal could be derailed by the constantly changing situation in Westminster.”

Mr Martin told Mr Varadkar he is “available to discuss this further if you so wish”.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar said securing the National Broadband Plan is a Government priority and a personal crusade.

Speaking on Friday after a turbulent 24 hours following the shock resignation of the Minister for Communications Denis Naughten on Thursday, Mr Varadkar said Mr Naughten “changed his story on a number of occasions”.

Mr Naughten resigned on Thursday afternoon after it emerged that he had held four private dinners with the head of the remaining bidder for the €500 million national broadband contract, David McCourt.

The plan is intended to bring high-speed broadband to half a million rural homes.

Mr Varadkar and Mr Naughten spoken about the matter on Wednesday evening and again on Thursday morning before Mr Naughten went into the Dáil and announced his resignation. Mr Varadkar said he was told of additional meetings on Thursday.

In his resignation statement, Mr Naughten said it was clear the Taoiseach did not have confidence in me and that: “If I was a cynic, which I’m not, I believe the outcome is more about opinion polls than telecoms poles. It’s more about optics than fibre optics.”

On Friday morning, Mr Naughten disputed a claim made by the Taoiseach that he told him about additional meetings with Mr McCourt for the first time on Thursday morning.

Speaking on his local radio station, Shannonside, Mr Naughten said the Taoiseach knew all the details of his meetings with the broadband bidder following a midnight phone call between both men on Wednesday.

Mr Naughten said no one at Thursday morning’s meeting showed any surprise when additional appointments with Mr McCourt were mentioned.

“There’s no reason for me not to be open and frank with the Taoiseach. I felt he needed to know it and I rang him Wednesday night and informed him of that.”

The “very difficult” meeting between Mr Varadkar, Mr Naughten and their advisers took place between 11.30am and just after noon.

Sources said Mr Varadkar asked Mr Naughten to reflect on his position over the next hour, and accepted there were no doubts over Mr Naughten’s integrity but that the optics were bad. Mr Naughten questioned what purpose his resignation would serve.

Mr Varadkar said on Friday he had rejected a proposal from Mr Naughten that he continue in his department in some capacity.

He also said he wanted to inform the public “later in the evening” who would replace Mr Naughten.

Speaking in the Dáil after Mr Naughten’s resignation, Mr Varadkar said an independent auditor would now “assess whether or not the process has been compromised”.

Mr Naughten’s resignation has also further eroded the Government’s working majority in the Dáil.

The Irish Times understands that officials fear Mr Naughten’s contacts with Mr McCourt – at which events Mr Varadkar, said there were no officials present and no minutes taken – has undermined the entire tender.

Mr Naughten on Thursday night said that he would decide whether to support the Government in the Dáil “on a case-by-case basis”.

His departure from Government reduces the number of votes the Taoiseach can command in the Dáil to 54 – three short of a bare majority when Fianna Fáil abstains. However, several Independents routinely support the Government, and its majority in the House has been comfortable on most important votes.