Taoiseach rules out pre-Christmas election

Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on extending government pact ‘going well’, says Minister

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Fine Gael was “almost” but “not quite” ready for an election. Photograph: Donall Farmer

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Fine Gael was “almost” but “not quite” ready for an election. Photograph: Donall Farmer

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said his primary interest is not “electoral advantage” but providing national stability, adding he does not intend calling a pre-Christmas election.

A private meeting of Fine Gael Ministers earlier this week heard Mr Varadkar say the window for a pre-Christmas election was almost closed. At that meeting, some Ministers – such as Paschal Donohoe, Regina Doherty and Simon Harris – said the talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on reviewing and possibly extending the confidence and supply deal should now intensify.

But Minister for Health Simon Harris said they could not continue at a “snail’s pace”. He claimed the agreement will come to an end within days once the finance Bill passes through the Oireachtas.

“So I what I want to know, and the people of this country want to know, is does this Government have an ability to continue in office.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has proposed to Mr Varadkar that both commit to keeping the Government in office until Brexit takes effect next March. Mr Varadkar has asked Mr Martin to extend the confidence and supply deal and agree that the next general election should be held in the summer of 2020

Speaking to reporters at the Fine Gael Ardfheis in the Citywest convention centre on Saturday, Mr Varadkar declined to say when he wanted the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil talks to conclude.

He said he had no intention of calling an election before Christmas. Fine Gael was “almost” but “not quite” ready for an election, he added.

“My primary interest is not going to be electoral advantage at the moment. It is looking after the interests of the country that we are charged to lead,” he said. “And, with the uncertainty that exists at the moment, particularly around Brexit, the focus of the Government has to be on that. I don’t have any plans to seek a dissolution of the Dáil this side of Christmas. It is not entirely in my hands. Fianna Fáil could withdraw support at any time. Potentially, although I don’t anticipate it, the people who are now serving in Government with us may leave.”

Ms Doherty, who is a member of the Fine Gael negotiating team with Fianna Fáil, said the talks are “going well”. But she added: “I think it is time to move on to more substantive talks . . . Fianna Fáil and ourselves have an opportunity now to provide real stability for the Irish people.”

She said the talks would “probably come to a head in the next couple of weeks”.

When asked about his comments earlier this week that it would be very difficult to avoid a hard border in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the Taoiseach replied that the withdrawal agreement struck between the EU and UK should be ratified.

Pursuit for Brexit deal

British prime minister Theresa May faces a serious challenge to get the deal through the House of Commons.

“If that deal is rejected and we ended up in a no-deal scenario, we’d only find ourselves within weeks or months having to come to a deal anyway. So it makes sense to me, now that we have a deal on the table, agreed by 28 governments, that that deal is now accepted,” he said.

“Bear in mind the backstop, from our point of view, from the point of view of the British government, has always been something that we want to use as an insurance policy. We don’t want to ever have to invoke it. And if it is invoked, we only want to do it for a temporary period.”

If Mrs May returns from a summit on November 25th with the deal signed off by the other 27 EU leaders, it will go to a vote in the House of Commons. If parliament approves that deal, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU on March 29th next.

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