Taoiseach says he was not ‘chancing his arm’ with 2020 election proposal

Leo Varadkar also rules out Finian McGrath’s request to free tax-evading doctor

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said anyone who breaks the law ‘should be willing to do the time’ in jail.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said anyone who breaks the law ‘should be willing to do the time’ in jail.

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted his proposal for a general election to be held in the summer of 2020 was a “serious” one, and said he was not “chancing his arm” with the suggestion.

Speaking in Venice, Italy, Mr Varadkar for the first time publicly confirmed he asked Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin to agree for the election to be held in summer 2020. The proposal was tabled at a meeting between the pair in Killarney, Co Kerry, last week to discuss the confidence and supply agreement.

Mr Martin has since claimed Mr Varadkar only “threw out” the suggestion without “any serious discussion”, adding: “There’s a bit of chancing the arm going on there.”

Mr Varadkar said his proposal still stood. “I wasn’t chancing my arm; it was a serious proposal. And the proposal stands. We are going to meet again in September before the Dáil resumes, and I am sure we can take it up from there.

“I suppose the question you are asking me is why 2020? Because I think the country needs political stability. We are heading into a period over the next couple of months where we are going to conclude the negotiations on Brexit. Then Brexit is going to happen for real. And then also there are external threats to our economy, which is going very well, but there are external threats, particularly around international trade and so on.”

An agreed date in 2020 would be “in the interests of the country”, and would not be “taking advantage of opinion polls”.

Fianna Fáil has claimed Mr Varadkar is attempting to provoke an election to capitalise on strong opinion poll ratings.

‘Do the time’

Separately, Mr Varadkar said tax fraud and evasion were serious crimes, and anyone who breaks the law “should be willing to do the time” in jail. He was responding to one of his Ministers, Finian McGrath, lobbying for the release of a GP who is in jail for failing to pay €100,000 in tax.

Mr Varadkar said he had not “yet” had a conversation with Mr McGrath about his lobbying, which was reported on Wednesday in The Irish Times.

The Taoiseach also effectively ruled out Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan granting Mr McGrath’s request to free Dr Bassam Naser, saying sentencing was “absolutely a matter for the courts and a matter for judges”.

Mr McGrath, the Minister of State for Disability Issues who attends Cabinet, visited Naser in Loughan House open prison, Co Cavan, earlier this week, and said Mr Flanagan had the option to commute or remit any sentence imposed by a court.

Naser, of Howth Road, Sutton, Dublin, pleaded guilty to two charges of delivering an incorrect return in connection with his income tax affairs.

Early release

Mr Varadkar said there was “provision in the law for probation and for early release, and those things are possible, and of course the Minister is free to lobby on behalf of his constituent when it comes to that”.

The Taoiseach was speaking as he visited the 2018 Venice Biennale, which has been curated this year by Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects. He will on Thursday meet Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome.