‘No way back’ for Fine Gael as early election date looks likely

Fine Gael ministers and TDs are demanding an early general election and have said Tuesday, December 19, is the most likely polling day.

The demand came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tried to end the stand-off with Fianna Fáil and avoid an election.

Several Cabinet members told the Irish Examiner they believe there is “no way back” for the minority Government, even if Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald offers to resign.

“Fianna Fail putting down the motion of no confidence was the end of the confidence and supply,” said one minister. “They have marched up the hill, and so have we in terms of backing Frances. So positions are entrenched. We are going to the polls, end of.”

Ministers have made it clear they believe that, should the election be called in the coming days, their clear preference is for a short three-week campaign, with polling before Christmas.

“Even if Frances goes, the damage is done and it would be highly naive to think we go back to normal if that happened,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the party was keen to lay the blame for the election squarely at the door of Fianna Fáil.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said if an election is called “it will be Fianna Fáil’s fault”.

Ms Doherty said yesterday: “Sinn Féin called Fianna Fáil’s bluff; Fianna Fáil called our bluff.”

She was adamant Fine Gael did not want an election and that the Government was going to do everything to find a resolution to “the political brinkmanship between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin”.

It would not be right for the Taoiseach “to throw Frances Fitzgerald under the bus”.

Senator Jerry Buttimer says if Fine Gael does have to go to the polls, they are prepared for it, but it is not the outcome he’s hoping for.

“I am always out canvassing personally; I was out canvassing yesterday,” he said.

“It’s what we do as politicians. If there is an election then it’s being called because of the opportunism of two political parties trying to outsmart one another, and that’s the reality. I think it’s important now that we let the tribunal do its work. There is a process in place, established and voted for by the Oireachtas, and if we can’t let that happen then there is no due process, there is no fairness in politics any more.”

Minister of state at the Department of Finance, Michael D’Arcy, said an election could be avoided but it would not be easy.

On RTÉ’s This Week programme, he also accused Sinn Féin of “political terrorism” because of its “slash and burn” attitude to this controversy.

He said that, even if the Tánaiste had had full knowledge of the Garda legal strategy, she was disallowed from acting and had been told that by two Attorneys General.

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar told the Irish Examiner: “The Taoiseach is doing everything he can to avoid an election, and hopes it will be possible to reach agreement with Micheál Martin. The talks are at a sensitive stage. There is no question of the Tánaiste being asked to resign,” he said.

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