Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is keeping all options open on when to call an election ahead of seeking support from independents and smaller parties for the Dáil over the weekend.
Speaking at City Assembly House in Dublin City, Mr Varadkar also insisted that the Fine Gael-led government would have the numbers in the Dáil to see off any potential vote of confidence against Health Minister Simon Harris next month.
His comments come after he met Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night over options to delay a snap election and legislation that can still be passed by the parliament. He said:
“I'm going to honor that confidence [from the meeting]. As things stand, the cabinet will meet on Tuesday, the Dáil will convene on Wednesday.”
Asked if Fine Gael was ready for an election as early as February 7 or if a vote the following week on Valentine's Day to “feel the love of the people” would be better, he answered:
It could be love of the people and hopefully a Valentine's Day massacre for our opponents.
“What I've consistently said is that, you know, when the time is right for election, it should be at the right time for the country, not necessarily the right time for any political party or any particular politician.”
He said he would speak to independents and smaller parties over the weekend about their possible support in the Dáil. Fine Gael, with depleted numbers in the Dáil, want Fianna Fáil to support them in votes, but Mr Martin has ruled this out. It is unclear if that demand is still on the table in the talks between the two leaders.
There is also speculation that if power-sharing is successfully restored in the North after a fresh deal offered to parties there this week, that Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin might abandon their support pact and go to the country. Those institutions may be back up and running over the weekend or by Monday.
Mr Varadkar would not be drawn on this and would only say he was keeping his options for an election date open.
But he added: “It's always been my preference to have an election in the summer. That's the nature of being a politics. It's much nicer to be knocking on doors and meeting people on the streets where the sun is shining, and the rain is not falling.”
'The game they're playing'
Nonetheless, if faced with the prospect of a Dáil vote of no confidence against his health minister next month - as threatened by rural independents - Mr Varadkar said he believed the coalition could survive this.
“I think we will have the numbers for that, actually, you know, I've lost count of the number of confidence motions that have been put down over the last couple of years. They've all been defeated," he said.
"They're largely done so that individual members, the opposition or particular opposition parties, can get some airtime. And that's the game they're playing.”