Boost for Micheal Martin as Taoiseach backs off Halloween confidence and supply deadline

Boost for Micheal Martin as Taoiseach backs off Halloween confidence and supply deadline

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has backed down on his Halloween confidence and supply deal talks deadline after a senior official u-turned to say the crunch date was "never a deadline and more of a target".

Mr Varadkar's spokesperson accepted defeat on the deadline exactly a week after it was put down, saying while the Taoiseach still wants to secure a two-year deal he accepts it may take until December to forge an agreement.

In an interview with RTE News last Tuesday, Mr Varadkar put down the first significant marker in the confidence and supply deal negotiations by saying he wanted the talks wrapped up as soon as possible.

Dismissing Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin's plan to put forward "a review time-frame running up to Christmas", Mr Varadkar instead said he wanted a deal struck "by the Halloween break".

The deadline became a high-profile sticking point between the two leaders with neither willing to back down in recent days.

However, speaking at the weekly post-cabinet media briefing, Mr Varadkar's spokesperson said the Halloween date is now off the table, claiming "it was never a deadline, it was more of a target" and that the Taoiseach just wants to avoid any "dillydallying".

The u-turn by Mr Varadkar effectively means Mr Martin has won round one in the confidence and supply talks, which are set to begin in earnest next week after both leaders met on Monday night to outline the rules of engagement.

It also came as senior Fianna Fáil TD and justice spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan - who is likely to be named on his party's four-TD strong negotiation team later this week - doubled down on Mr Martin's talks schedule, saying he expects a deal to be done by Christmas.

I would hope so, that we would know by then. As you know, I was part of the talks in 2016 at Trinity College. They went on for six weeks or so, maybe seven weeks, of all our lives down there.

"I would hope this process wouldn't take as long and that by Christmas we would be aware of whether it's going to be renewed or not," Mr O'Callaghan told reporters.

Speaking during the same media briefing, the party's Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said: "There is no doubt in my mind London and Brussels are watching us so we need to ensure we do present that united front."

Meanwhile, it has separately emerged that Mr Varadkar has not spoken to ex-communications minister Denis Naughten since the Independent TD resigned from cabinet on Thursday - risking bringing down the Government in the process.

Mr Varadkar's spokesperson also said he did not know who in Government spoke to Independent TD Michael Lowry to guarantee his support at the weekend and rejected claims he has been given a personal deal to keep the Taoiseach in power.

The latest Ipsos/MRBI opinion poll published in the Irish Times placed Fine Gael on 33% and Fianna Fáil on 25%, figures which are respectively up 2% and down 1% on the previous poll by the same group.

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