Fine Gael TDs and senators have been told that an extension to the increasingly fraught Brexit negotiations is “alive” but that there is still some way to go in the talks.
Following mixed reaction to British prime minister Boris Johnson’s alternative plan to the backstop, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tried to reassure his party.
Addressing the weekly Fine Gael meeting in Leinster House, Mr Varadkar said the government were “not rubbishing” Mr Johnson’s proposals or considering them “out of hand”. Nonetheless, the backstop-the insurance policy measure to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland-was the “best show in town”.
It was time to “hold tight,” Mr Varadkar advised party figures last night.
Both he and Tanaiste Simon Coveney said it was the coalition government’s aim to still try and secure an orderly Brexit deal. There was a “long way to go”, added Mr Varadkar.
Nonetheless, he admitted to TDs and senators that the idea of a Brexit extension beyond the October 31 deadline was “still alive”.
This could be achieved if there was either a decision to hold another Brexit referendum in Britain or if a snap general election was called there, TDs were told.
However, he also suggested to Fine Gael members that in the event that Mr Johnson did not look for an extension, that he could be “forced out” of office. Such a scenario is in line with the so-called Benn Bill, which prevents the British government from crashing out of the EU without seeking an extension.
But in the event of a general election, Mr Johnson would “likely win anyhow”, Mr Varadkar told the meeting, according to party sources. This could mean that any future negotiations on Brexit would still involve the same prime minister, the party was told.
Elsewhere, party TD Fergus O’Dowd failed to get a motion passed with the Fine Gael party to charge property owners levies for empty units. The idea
was floated by the Louth TD and comes after mounting criticism of vacant shops, houses and apartments in some towns and cities-despite a housing crisis.
However, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe shot down the proposal and said there were many reasons for empty properties. He referred to a recent Indecon report, which assessed the different reasons. Mr Donohoe insisted that there could be “unintended consequences” if such a levy was applied across the board. The minister told his colleagues that properties were “not all vacant for the same reasons”, according to party sources.
TDs and senators said that local authorities were not using enough officers to inspect or monitor empty properties.