No confidence and supply ‘gentleman’s agreement’

Fianna Fáil has ruled out any sort of a “gentleman’s agreement” to extend the confidence and supply deal by six months to deal with Brexit.

No confidence and supply ‘gentleman’s agreement’

Party sources last night dismissed the demand from the Independent Alliance as like “talking about a second or third slow dance before the first one is even over”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, a senior Fianna Fáil source said the party would be willing to support the budget and keep the confidence and supply agreement in place until all parts are passed.

However, that commitment came with a major caveat that housing and the health service are prioritised in the budget.

Leader Micheál Martin is insisting that greater clarity be provided in the summer economic statement with the “nitty gritty” discussions relating to the budget due to commence in July and into August.

The Irish Examiner understands that Fianna Fáil will insist that the “rainy day fund” as outlined by the Government be ramped up and prioritised and they are also demanding delivery of pay restoration to workers in voluntary or so-called Section 39 hospitals.

However, in relation to the proposal from the Independent Alliance that the arrangement be extended by six months, senior party people dismissed the idea as “presumptuous”.

A gentleman’s agreement has been talked about since December and Fine Gael would be better focusing their attention on implementing some of the Programme for Government instead of talking about extending the current agreement, said one senior party figure.

Some Independent Alliance ministers have said they want Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to agree to a six-month extension of the deal to avoid a pre-Brexit election.

Finian McGrath
Finian McGrath

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath and Skills Minister John Halligan said they want a short extension in the national interest, warning that the party that calls an early vote could end up being blamed for the return of a hard border between the Republic and the North.

“It is incumbent on both of them to put the country’s interests first, they should hammer out a gentleman’s agreement for six more months,” said Mr Halligan.

Mr McGrath said that while ministers are “talking about it [an election] every day”, it would be “absolute lunacy to have it before the conclusion of the Brexit talks”.

Mr Martin has all but ruled out forcing an election this year — but has hinted he is prepared to go to the polls in spring 2019 amid ongoing tension within his party.

Despite senior Fianna Fáil TDs saying they want to end the confidence and supply deal when it runs out this autumn, Mr Martin said he is “fully determined” to see the agreement through to the end.

The Fianna Fáil leader downplayed growing talk of an imminent vote by saying his party will facilitate Fine Gael staying in power for three budgets.

Mr Martin said that while Fine Gael believes the deal ends in October, his interpretation is the passing of the budget-linked social welfare and finance bills in November and December is also “specifically” included, ruling out a 2018 election unless the deal itself is scrapped.

The attempt to stretch out the confidence and supply deal deadline by three months means Mr Martin has all but ruled out a 2018 election.

Yet, the chances of an early election remain high as Fine Gael enjoys an eight-point lead over Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s personal popularity is on par with Bertie Ahern’s during the Celtic Tiger days of 2004 and 2005.

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