By Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has rejected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s demand that talks to extend the confidence and supply agreement be concluded by Halloween.
On budget day, Mr Varadkar laid down the gauntlet in terms of the deadline to extend the deal to continue the minority government, but has been rebuffed by the Fianna Fáil leader.
Mr Martin made it clear he wants a “thorough review” of the deal so far before any new agreement can be considered.
It has been made clear that Mr Martin is not minded, as of now, to sign up to a formal new deal but rather engage in a series of reviews to facilitate one more budget.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Martin said he and his party have “no intention of accepting artificial deadlines or any proposal which would deny the thorough review which we envisaged when reaching agreement in 2016”.
“No party has a divine right to power — no matter how much time it spends praising itself,” he said.
“In case anyone tries to use the Brexit situation as an excuse for claiming there is instability, we have assured Ireland’s European partners of the stability of Ireland’s negotiating position and that nothing will be done to in any way interfere with a deal being done and implemented.
“The budget speech has been delivered, but there is a lot of information yet to be published and the details of the Finance Bill and Social Protection Bill, we will be constructive in dealing with them and focused, as we have been so far, in ensuring a more progressive and effective policy for addressing the concerns of the Irish people.”
Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil has fulfilled a duty others had shirked — to enable the formation of a government after the last general election.
“We have been entirely straight and honest in how we have honoured our agreement,” he said.
“We have done this in spite of many difficulties and what can only be described as provocations, particularly over the last year.
“I informed the Taoiseach yesterday that we will continue to honour the agreement between our parties and will enter a review of the confidence and supply arrangement.
“We will do so as we have always done — in good faith and without the sort of spinning and briefing which there has been far too much of in recent months.”
Behind the scenes, sources close to Mr Varadkar have said matters are “trundling along in the background”.
Despite official denials that a general election is being planned for, several ministers have said an election in November or early December remains possible.
It is understood members of the Independent Alliance are worried that Transport Minister Shane Ross’s budget arguments will damage them.
Asked if he had damaged the standing of the Independence Alliance, given the late wrangling and list of budget demands, Mr Ross said: “The whole position of the Independent Alliance has been rather dramatised and it has been marked by some people with extraordinarily inaccurate and very colourful and very imaginative reporting.
“There was absolutely no dissention among ourselves about any of the issues. There was certainly some discussions with [Finance Minister] Paschal Donohoe.”
Asked when he thought an election would be called, Mr Ross said: “When the Taoiseach decides it is time.”
Asked about the possibility of an election in the coming weeks, Business Minister Heather Humphreys said: “I don’t have a crystal ball. The Taoiseach has been speaking to the leader of the opposition in Fianna Fáil as part of the confidence and supply agreement and, as I said, the Taoiseach has indicated that he would like to reach an agreement that will go out until 2020.
“I think that’s a sensible, prudent thing to be doing given the challenges we are facing in terms of Brexit and, indeed, other global challenges.”
Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan said: “It is the Taoiseach’s prerogative if he wants to go to the country.
“I don’t think the people would look kindly on a government running to the country based on a budget. I think they’ll want to see what happens over the next next six or seven months, and particularly from November onwards, with Brexit and the imminent departure, or maybe not, of Britain from the European Union.”