Belfast Telegraph

General Election 2019

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gets ready for a snap election and pledges to work with NI politicians

History call: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
History call: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

By Hugh O'Connell

The Irish government has ramped up preparations for a snap election within weeks following the decisive outcome of the UK general election.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told a private gathering of Fine Gael figures this week that they need to come back after Christmas and "make history" by securing a third term in office.

Mr Varadkar also confirmed he had spoken to Boris Johnson on the phone yesterday evening.

In a statement, the Taoiseach said he had congratulated the Prime Minister on his election victory. The government statement added: "They agreed there is now a significant opportunity to restore the Good Friday Agreement institutions, and pledged to work with the Northern Ireland parties to achieve this.

"They also discussed how to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Ireland and the UK. Both looked forward to the smooth passage of the Withdrawal Agreement.

"They agreed to stay in close contact in the period ahead."

Mr Varadkar said earlier in Brussels yesterday that the decision on the election timing in 2020 may not be in his gift - or that of Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

"The game is on," a senior Fianna Fail TD said. "I'd say there'll be an election in the month of February."

Senior figures in Fine Gael believe an election early in the new year is possible given the minority government's precarious position in Dail votes, with February the most likely time.

"The numbers aren't there and the government is not in control of its own destiny after Christmas," a government insider said.

One of Mr Varadkar's closest aides and head of government policy John Carroll is set to move to Fine Gael HQ in January to spearhead the campaign.

Mr Varadkar provided an update on election preparations at the Fine Gael staff Christmas party this week where his "make history" comments were described by one senior minister as "an attempt to rally the troops".

Fine Gael ministers have also discussed issuing a stark warning to voters that Fianna Fail will lead a radical left-wing government, possibly with Sinn Fein support. "What's emerging is likely to be the most left-wing government in the history of the state if Fine Gael aren't in government," a Fine Gael minister claimed.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he is prepared to meet with Mr Martin to discuss the timing of the general election in the new year.

"That may be neither in my control or that of the leader of Fianna Fail when you look at how tight the numbers were the last time," the Taoiseach told reporters at the end of a leaders' summit in Brussels.

The discussion followed comments on radio by Mr Martin, who said the UK general election landslide win for Boris Johnson, which finally unblocks Brexit, did not mean there should be an Irish general election next January or February.

Mr Martin said he still believed the general election should happen after next Easter, which next year falls on April 12. That would mean both big party leaders appear agreed on a vote being called in May 2020.

"Easter to me is the natural cut-off point for this Dail," the Fianna Fail leader told RTE's News at One.

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