Varadkar urged to take hard line with Fianna Fáil
Senior Government sources say Taoiseach is eager to have general election this year
Some Ministers believe Fine Gael can gain between seven and 13 seats in the next general election
The dispute between the two parties continued on Friday, with three senior Ministers criticising Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for his comments on when the deal between the two parties should be renegotiated.
Mr Martin has insisted Mr Varadkar is seeking to provoke Fianna Fáil into an early general election, and stressed his belief that talks should begin at the end of the current arrangement.
However, speaking in Brussels on Friday, Mr Varadkar said the Opposition party needed to make clear its intentions in the near future.
“We really need to know from them, sooner rather than later, whether they’re committed to the confidence and supply agreement long term or not, because it’s not possible to govern in the interests of the people, to do our jobs as Ministers if we don’t know week to week, month to month whether the Government is going to survive or not,” said Mr Varadkar.
The dispute between both parties has heightened the possibility of an early general election, and senior Government sources say Mr Varadkar is eager to have one this year.
The Taoiseach believes there needs to be clarity on the stability of the Government ahead of the budget and the Brexit negotiations, sources added.
Mr Varadkar is understood to be focused on candidate selection at present, and on attracting people from outside Fine Gael into the party fold. This position is supported by a number of Ministers, who believe Fine Gael can gain between seven and 13 seats in the next election.
The current arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expires later this year, and there is a commitment to review the deal at that juncture.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said he believed the talks on renewal should begin before the budget, while Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan called on Fianna Fáil to explain why it wants to “plunge the country into an unwanted general election and likely instability and uncertainty that will ensue”.
Meanwhile, the Independent Alliance and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone backed Fianna Fáil’s position in the dispute. Mr Martin has said talks on the deal should take place after the budget and at the end of the arrangement.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross, Minister with special responsibility for Disability Finian McGrath, Ministers of State John Halligan and Kevin Boxer Moran and Ms Zappone said they believed it was essential the third budget was passed.
Ms Zappone told reporters she did not know if the Government would survive beyond the confidence and supply arrangement, but did not believe there would be a “break up” before the budget.
In a statement, the Independent Alliance said the talk of an election in the autumn was unhelpful and could derail the Brexit negotiations.
A spokesman added: “The last thing that the people want to see is another period of political instability, and the Independent Alliance supports the comments of Mr Martin who is seeking to reach agreement on a third budget and possibly extend the confidence and supply agreement beyond that.”