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Varadkar rules out snap pre-Christmas general election

Varadkar rules out snap pre-Christmas general election

- with reporting from Juno McEnroe

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out calling a pre-Christmas snap general election despite a number of Fine Gael ministers insisting he should go to the polls now.

The Irish Examiner understands Mr Varadkar told the weekly Fine Gael ministers meeting before cabinet on Wednesday morning he will not run to the electorate for a November or early December vote.

In recent days, a number of Fine Gael TDs - which were described by Independent Alliance minister Finian McGrath as "young turks in cabinet" - privately pushed for a pre-Christmas election.

The reasons they gave included the fact there is a seven week gap between now and the British general election on December 12; that Brexit has been extended until January 31; the need to avoid a winter health and homelessness crisis; and that Fine Gael has risen marginally in the latest opinion poll.

Counter points to the argument were that polls change; the British general election window does not mean it has to be used; that Brexit has yet to be resolved; and that the attempt to avoid the health and homelessness winter crises was too blatant.

The situation led to pressure for Mr Varadkar to decide what action to take in the coming days, and at the latest by Thursday week when the writ for the four by-elections on November 29 is tabled.

And, addressing the Fine Gael ministers pre-cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, the Taoiseach confirmed he will not call a snap pre-Christmas general election, with sources saying he said there is no "wiggle room" to do so.

The Irish Examiner understands no minister dissented or contradicted Mr Varadkar during the meeting, while speaking notes sent to Government ministers if they are asked about the issue later read:

  • the Government is "pressing ahead" with improving the economy and supporting families
  • the Taoiseach has made it clear he wants a May 2020 general election
  • while Fine Gael does not want a general election now, it is ready for one if it occurs
  • and that the four by-elections provisionally due for November 29 could change matters if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil lose them all, as this will impact on the confidence and supply deal numbers.

The latter point would not result in causing a pre-Christmas general election as any change in Dáil numbers would not lead to an election before the final days of December at the absolute earliest - a date no politician will want to happen.

However, it has been noted by some opposition politicians that the fact the by-elections have been mentioned at all means there is a slim possibility Mr Varadkar could still call a snap general election before Thursday week by switching the by-election writ for a general election alternative.

Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central Dara Murphy - who is not contesting the next general election - had earlier told RTÉ Radio's Today With Sean O'Rourke programme a November election should be called in order to "put the country first".

Mr Murphy said the British general election for December 12 means there is a window of opportunity for a vote that may be less complicated than in spring when the second stage Brexit negotiations begin, saying:

"We're still going to be focussed on four by elections, so why not go from four to 40 [and have a general election now]."

Speaking on the same programme, Fianna Fáil's finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said "I can see huge problems for Ireland if we go down the road of a pre-Christmas election", adding:

"This is about a number of Fine Gael ministers getting out of their job, because they're sinking."

Independent Alliance TD and Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath similarly said a snap pre-Christmas general election is "not in the country's interests" and is being pushed by "young turks in cabinet", saying:

"Brexit is not resolved, people need to calm down... It would be bonkers."

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