Finance Minister Michael Noonan has placed further scrutiny on the prospect of a snap November election after saying the Government has “two windows” to choose when to call the vote.
Mr Noonan, who is known to be in favour of calling the election before Christmas, declined to rule out the possibility of an early run to the polls while announcing the last exchequer returns before the budget.
Speaking during the launch at the Department of Finance, Mr Noonan parted ways with other cabinet members who have repeatedly said the election will be held in 2016 — he says the coalition has two windows which are “before Christmas or after Christmas”.
He said the decision is ultimately a matter for Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who he described as a “very good political judge”, adding that “I’m quite willing on this particular one to let the decision be the Taoiseach’s”.
When asked to give his personal opinion instead of outlining the options, the finance minister declined to specifically state the vote will be held in 2016 or to give his own preference.
Mr Noonan is known to favour a November vote to avoid potential issues for the Government and to capitalise on the public relations benefits of this week’s €27bn capital plan, dropping unemployment levels, and the latest exchequer figures showing tax revenue is 5.8% ahead of target.
Labour TD and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, who also announced the exchequer update beside Mr Noonan, has previously said he believes the election should be held in spring.
At a separate event in Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, to launch the Government’s disability strategy yesterday, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald — who is chairwoman of Fine Gael’s national election strategy committee — said election plans are “well underway” but that 2016 remains the likely vote date.
“It’s very fair to say both parties have been making preparations and that we are well advanced,” she said. “Everybody knows there is an election due but as the Taoiseach has consistently said that will be next year and both parties are planning for that.”
The ongoing early election speculation comes after a week in which internal government talk of a snap November poll has repeatedly been leaked into the public domain.
On Tuesday, Mr Kenny challenged broadcaster and ex-Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates to a bet “he will lose” after Mr Yates said the vote will be held on November 20. A day later, it emerged European commissioner Phil Hogan had told Fine Gael colleagues in Brussels on Monday to prepare for a vote from November.
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