Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has accused the Taoiseach of fabricating concerns about Brexit and instability while saying he believes there will be some fudge around an EU withdrawal agreement for Britain in November.
He also rubbished claims that party TDs are worried about recent opinion polls and was forced to deny that Fianna Fáil has lost its backbone.
He was speaking at the Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party pre-Dáil meeting in Malahide, Dublin.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has appealed to the opposition party to commence talks on possibly renewing the confidence and supply agreement — the support pact between the Government and Fianna Fáil — ahead of Brexit negotiations.
Britain will leave the EU next March but a withdrawal deal, stalled due to disagreement about how to prevent a hard border in the North, has yet to be negotiated. Mr Varadkar said it was in the interest of stability that he wants talks with Fianna Fáil to start immediately.
Mr Martin attacked the Taoiseach’s stance on prioritising the support pact talks and said Fianna Fáil will maintain the three-year, three-budget confidence and supply agreement.
He went as far as to claim the concern about agreeing a deal early because of Brexit was concocted.
“The confidence and supply was signed off long before Brexit, so I think there was a deliberate attempt made to raise the spectre of Brexit and that ‘oh there can’t be any instability, we can’t be looking over the shoulder week to week’. When we said last March we would support the budget, that meant the finance bill and social welfare bill into January.
“That... thing about Brexit was trumped-up — if you excuse the pun.”
He argued that Brexit was “not about when and the timing of a general election”, adding: “Brexit is about people who export beef to the European market, it’s about dairy markets.”
Mr Martin visited officials in Brussels about the Brexit talks last week, including EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
He told reporters he now believes there will be some deal for Britain’s withdrawal agreed in November.
“My own view is that there will be a resolution. Some people can’t see it right now, but I think in the nature of European politics and the European Union’s way of doing business I think it will come to a head.
Nonetheless, Mr Martin faces huge internal party pressures here amid dwindling poll figures and with disgruntled TDs pushing for an end to Fianna Fáil’s support of the Government.
Party TD John McGuinness recently suggested the party was left with no backbone and should go for an election rather than continue the confidence and supply arrangement.
Mr Martin dismissed the claim about his party.
“I don’t agree with that,” he said.
Furthermore, he dismissed claims the party has concerns about the low polling ratings.
“I’ve been through two general elections as leader of the party, so I know a thing or two about it, and the idea that I’m or we’re somehow worried about polls is rubbish, pure and simple.”