Taoiseach Leo Varadkar remains adamant his preferred general election date is May 2020 despite forceful views across all political parties that an election before Christmas is now a real likelihood.
All but two of 15 TDs to whom The Irish Times spoke yesterday, including senior Fine Gael Ministers, said they believed an early election was on the cards if there was a breakthrough on Brexit. It would also avoid the holding of four by-elections in late November, all of which will be likely won by the Opposition.
Political parties also said they were more or less fully prepared for an early election, if one is called.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin spoke at two of his party’s selection conventions at the weekend and told members to be prepared for an early election.
“I made it clear in both meetings that there was a 50:50 chance we will have a general election in late November or early December,” he said.
“Leo Varadkar can claim an auspicious success from Brexit. He can go now rather than the new year when the Brexit backdrop will be replaced by a domestic backdrop that is more problematic.”
However, the Taoiseach’s spokesman downplayed the speculation, saying there had been a consistent preference for a May 2020 date and that had not changed. He said Mr Varadkar had written to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin in August 2018 proposing a 2020 election.
“Since then the Taoiseach has indicated that May 2020 is his preferred choice of date for the election as either a Brexit deal would be in place or the worst of a no-deal Brexit would be managed by then.”
Over the weekend, Mr Martin also said there would not be a general election this year unless the Taoiseach tried to “pull a stroke of some sort because he thinks it will benefit him”.
Speaking at the Fianna Fáil presidential dinner in Dublin, Mr Martin said it would then be up to the Taoiseach to explain if he decided to call an election before budget-related items such as the Finance Bill, the Social Welfare Bill and supplementary estimates had not been dealt with.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said it was too early to speculate about election dates. “We are not there yet and getting a bit ahead of us in talking about an election date,” he said.
However, other Fine Gael TDs and Ministers expressed the view that an early election should be considered.
“Everybody is talking about it around the dining room,” said one senior Minister speaking off the record. “I do not think it’s a revolutionary thing if there is a Brexit deal and then we go to the people then.
“Leo Varadkar has steered us through phase one. Let him finish the job and steer us through phase two. It’s the biggest call that he will have to make as Taoiseach,” said the Minister.
The Fine Gael chair of the Oireachtas housing committee, Noel Rock, asked: “If Leo Varadkar successfully brings about a deal on Brexit why should we not have an election?”
Niall Collins of Fianna Fail said: “If the Government does badly in the four by-elections, it gives Fianna Fáil huge momentum.”
David Cullinane of Sinn Féin said his party was prepared for an early election.