Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has for the first time publicly called for a general election to be delayed until at least 2020, warning that 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. He 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 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.
He highlighted the threat of a hard Brexit, saying politicians must put the country’s needs first and that, as such, he and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin should agree to extend the confidence and supply 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,” said Mr Varadkar.
“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.
Pushed on whether he has effectively handcuffed Fianna Fáil into extending the deal, due to Brexit, Mr Varadkar said: “I don’t know if that’s the case or not.”
The Taoiseach rejected Mr Martin’s claims that he is “chancing the arm” by openly suggesting there should be no general election until 2020.
“I wasn’t chancing my arm, it was a serious proposal and the proposal stands,” said Mr Varadkar.
He said he will again meet with Mr Martin in September, before the Dáil resumes, adding that “I am sure we can take it from there”.
Last week, it emerged that Mr Varadkar had suggested the 2020 general election date to Mr Martin at a private meeting of the two party leaders.
While a number of 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.
In addition to Brexit, a number of other issues mean any general election before March is highly unlikely. They include the Pope’s visit to Ireland, the budget, two referenda, and the presidential election race.
Separately, Mr Martin has 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 urged Mr Martin to call an emergency national meeting to discuss the party’s future amid slumping poll results.
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