By Juno McEnroe and Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
A minister has slammed Fianna Fáil moves to trigger a general election as “irresponsible” and “out of order”.
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath said Barry Cowen’s suggestion that the government support pact with Fianna Fáil was unlikely to be renewed was his “usual huff and puff talk”.
Other party figures ruled out any snap election and defended the confidence and supply agreement with the Government.
Mr Cowen surprised colleagues in Leinster House by publicly saying the agreement’s “natural lifetime may be over”.
The three-year pact, whereby Fianna Fáil support Fine Gael in office in exchange for policy measures, was unlikely to be renewed after October’s budget, he said.
A Fianna Fáil refusal to renew the deal would likely trigger a general election. Party leader Micheál Martin says the deal will be reviewed after the budget while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wants talks around it ahead of October.
Mr Cowen told RTÉ issues such as housing and health had not been resolved by the Government.
“We have met the demand that was placed upon us. We’ve realised our ambition and can see the end in sight. If it is a process that is to be prolonged, that is to be fed into with other members.”
However, it would be up to Mr Martin and the Taoiseach to negotiate a new deal or its end, he said.
Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath said he was surprised and disappointed by Mr Cowen’s comments, “especially in light of sensitive Brexit negotiations ahead. This [an election] is totally uncalled for and out of order at this time. Talk of an election is irresponsible. This is Barry Cowen’s usual huff and puff talk.”
While some Fianna Fáil TDs played down Mr Cowen’s remarks, others admitted it could be impossible to renew it if sufficient progress was not made on issues.
Jobs spokesman Billy Kelleher said: “We should honour our commitments, as the Government should. That will take us to the end of the year. But unless there are changes in health and housing among issues, it would be difficult to renew it.”
Willie O’Dea said: “What we want to see is very significant improvement in areas between now and the next budget, we want to see significant investment in both those areas in the next budget, that’s our first priority, when that’s all over we will then have the conversation.”
The Fianna Fáil leadership played down any snap election. A spokesperson for Mr Martin said: “The confidence and supply agreement provides for three budgets and a review after the third budget. Our focus is on ensuring that this third budget addresses the key problems in health and housing in a meaningful way.”