Taoiseach calls for general election to be delayed until 2020

Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent in Venice, Italy

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has for the first time publicly called for the general election to be delayed until at least 2020, warning Brexit means politicians cannot continue to put the country at risk by "second guessing" each other over the date of the vote.

Mr Varadkar said there is no legitimate reason to call a general election now other than to take advantage of opinion polls as he separately failed to rule out suggestions he is using Brexit to handcuff Fianna Fáil into extending the confidence and supply deal.

Speaking in Venice, Italy, on the third day of a four day trip to continental Europe to shore up EU support for Ireland's Brexit position, Mr Varadkar confirmed he does not favour holding an election either this year or in 2019.

Highlighting the threat of a no deal hard brexit situation, he said politicians must put the country's needs first and that as such he and Mr Martin should agree to extend the existing deal for another two years.

"It just makes sense to me that if you have an arrangement and that arrangement is due to expire within a few months that it makes sense to renew that and remove the uncertainty that exists around the date of an election so that both the Government and the Oireachtas can focus on the issues that are actually important to people," Mr Varadkar said.

"They are getting a good deal on Brexit, making sure that we secure jobs, keep the economy on track and improve living standards, and to keep the focus on some of the very difficult problems we have in housing and healthcare."

"That should be the focus of Government and opposition, not to second guess each other on who's going to call the election," he said, adding "I don't know if that's the case or not" that he has effectively handcuffed Fianna Fáil into extending the deal due to Brexit.

Mr Varadkar separately rejected Mr Martin's claims yesterday the Taoiseach is "chancing the arm" by openly suggesting there should be no general election until 2020, insisting despite the fact the plan would automatically extend his own reign this was the last issue on his mind.

Saying "I wasn't chancing my arm, it was a serious proposal and the proposal stands", Mr Varadkar said he and Mr Martin will "meet again in September before the Dáil resumes, and I am sure we can take it from there".

Last week, it emerged that Mr Varadkar had suggested a 2020 general election date to Mr Martin at a private meeting of the two party leaders in Munster.

While a number of high-profile Fianna Fáil TDs accused Mr Varadkar of leaking the potential date to reporters in a bid to box Fianna Fáil into a corner, senior sources in Mr Martin's party subsequently said a one year extension may be more palatable.

Despite constant speculation of a snap general election in recent months, the reality is that such a move would be difficult due to the ongoing Brexit negotiations, which are due to end with Britain's departure from the EU next March.

However, in addition to Brexit, a number of other issues including the pope's visit to Ireland, the budget, two referenda and the presidential election race mean a rumoured general election before next March is highly unlikely.

Mr Martin has separately come under pressure from a number of Fianna Fáil TDs to not extend the confidence and supply deal which runs out in the weeks after the budget this year.

They include Fianna Fáil TD and Oireachtas finance committee chairman John McGuinness, who on Monday urged Mr Martin to call an emergency Fianna Fáil national meeting to discuss the party's future amid slumping opinion poll results.

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