Labour is digging in for a spring election as senior figures openly slapped down calls from within Fine Gael for a snap November poll.
Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin used Dáil questions to twice pointedly refer to a general election taking place next year. This chimes with the public statements of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, but a growing number of Fine Gael TDs now favour going to the polls in the aftermath of a relatively generous budget on October 13.
Labour believes it will have a better chance of an upswing in support if the Coalition holds on until February or early March as any benefits of the budget will then have appeared in pay packets from January.
However, a large number of Fine Gael TDs feel the party should seize on a budget “afterglow” and capitalise on better economic news as soon as possible, rather than risk losing control of the political agenda in the winter months. Some in the party also fear that another trolley crisis in the HSE will damage the party in the run-up to a spring poll.
The Government was accused of manipulating this week’s capital spending programme announcement to launch the unofficial election campaign. But Mr Howlin denied the opposition charge and said the decisions made were in the best interest of the country’s economic growth outlook.
“In setting out expenditure measures for the budget next year, the Government will look to further enhance key public services while building on the progress we have made to returning our economy to stability,” the minister told TDs.
Independent TD Mick Wallace challenged the Coalition’s claims that that was a major new injection of funds as he said the investment represented only 1.9% of GDP over the next six years.
Labour has acknowledged that the Taoiseach has the sole responsibility in deciding when to call an election. Some Fine Gael TDs are talking of November 20, but Mr Kenny does not need to call a new Dáil poll until April 9 at the latest.
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