The Irish Times view on the election countdown: slow march to the ballot box

Once there is certainty on Brexit, there will no longer be any pressing reason to keep the current Dáil in existence

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has given Leo Varadkar a clear route to a general election after Easter. The big question is whether the Taoiseach wishes to take it. It is expected that the two men will meet later this week to discuss the issue and that might provide some clarity about the likely course of events.

In the wake of the recent narrow Government victory in the motion of no-confidence in Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy there was speculation about the prospect of a February election. This prompted a letter from Martin to Varadkar calling on the Taoiseach to agree a date for an election in April.

The letter has provoked some indignation from Fine Gael Ministers, who resent the Opposition leader's attempt to usurp the Taoiseach's prerogative for setting the election date. However, the role Martin has played in delivering stability during the lifetime of the current Dáil through the confidence-and-supply arrangement has put him in an unprecedented position to influence the timing of the next election.

There are strong arguments as to why the current Dáil should be dissolved as quickly as possible in the new year

Since he took over as Taoiseach, Varadkar has maintained that it is his intention to remain in office until May of next year and he has challenged the Fianna Fáil leader to agree that timetable. Martin’s offer to agree a date in April is as close to that as Varadkar is going to get.

Regardless of ministerial bluster, Varadkar will be tempted to agree to Martin’s offer of an election after Easter. Fine Gael’s poor performance in the four recent byelections, the negative publicity surrounding ex-TD Dara Murphy’s expenses and its precarious Dáil position all provide an incentive for the party to take the opportunity for a bit of breathing space before fighting the general election.

Few TDs will relish the prospect of an election in the February cold and dark

There are strong arguments as to why the current Dáil should be dissolved as quickly as possible in the new year. It has come to the end of its useful life in passing new legislation. With Boris Johnson's resounding election victory the United Kingdom is set to leave the EU by January 31st so Brexit will no longer count as a valid reason for postponing the election here.

The other main argument against an early election was the imperative facing the Irish and British governments to do everything in their control to restore the powersharing institutions at Stormont, which have now been in suspension for almost three years. Those talks have now resumed and they have to be concluded by mid-January one way or another.

Few TDs will relish the prospect of an election in the February cold and dark, so Martin’s offer of certainty about an April contest may prove tempting for the Fine Gael leadership. But once there is certainty with regard to Brexit and the Northern institutions, there will no longer be any pressing reason to keep the current Dáil in existence.

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