Unwarranted Fianna Fáil attacks on Fine Gael have “damaged the talks” aimed at forming a government it has been claimed.
The deputy leaders of both parties – Simon Coveney and Dara Calleary – spoke this morning in a bid to clarify reports that officials are making arrangements to hold elections under Covid-19 restrictions.
These reports have led to some Fianna Fáil TDs to accuse Fine Gael of seeking to orchestrate a second general election after the summer.
In a terse statement released by Fine Gael on Sunday, the party said that an “attack by two senior Fianna Fail spokespeople was unwarranted and has damaged the talks process.”
“It is also rather ironic that one of the two had recently claimed falsely that both parties had agreed to hold a referendum within weeks of forming a Government, presumably during a pandemic,” the statement added.
Following these attacks, it has been made clear that Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin are to discuss the matter.
The statement said: “Following the unwillingness and inability of other parties to form a Government without us, Fine Gael agreed to enter talks with Fianna Fail and the Green Party with a view to forming a Government in the national interest. Talks were going well.
“Yesterday, it was reported that officials in the Franchise section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government were making contingency plans for polling in the coming months,” it added.
"The Constitution and the law are clear on this. Elections, by-elections and referenda must happen within defined timeframes once vacancies arise.
There is no specific provision for public health emergencies (eg pandemics) envisaged in the Constitution or the law. Officials were only doing their jobs by scenario planning for all eventualities.
"The Leader of Fine Gael will be in contact with the Leader of Fianna Fail to discuss the matter,” the statement concluded.
Mr Coveney took a call from Dara Calleary on Sunday morning to quell mounting speculation that plans for a second election were moving apace, insisting officials are merely trying to do their duty and explore options should an election need to be held while Covid-19 conditions are still in play.
A media report on Saturday revealed that a plan on how to hold a general election in the midst of the coronavirus crisis – including spreading voting over a number of days, giving “cocooners” a postal vote and allowing polling in nursing homes – is being drawn up within Government.
A limited number of Cabinet Ministers are aware of the plans, but sources said they are being drafted by officials on the orders of Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy on a contingency basis should the current negotiations to form a government fail.
One option being mooted is to hold voting over two or three days to allow for social distancing at polling stations. In such a scenario polling days may be allocated to certain addresses or streets, but no firm decisions have been made.
Speaking on Sunday, Mr Coveney said he rang Mr Calleary to dampen down speculation that his party is seeking to collapse the current talks process.
“I rang Dara to assure him and he is,” Mr Coveney told RTE's The Week in Politics.
The Tánaiste also said his government acknowledge the anomolies which have arisen in those who are in receipt of the €350-a-week Covid-19 emergency payment and said they will “seek to correct that” if legally possible.
He was speaking amid controversy that women returning from maternity leave are currently outside the scope of the measure, a situaiton which the opposition said is unacceptable.
Mr Coveney said there is not a lack of will to fix the problem but said any move would have to be legally permissable and there is uncertainty about that.
Sinn Féin's Louise O'Reilly said new legislation is not needed to include those women returning from maternity leave, arguing a ministerial order from Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe could resolve it.