Belfast Telegraph

‘50-50 chance Republic of Ireland vote will be called by weekend’

Pressure: Leo Varadkar
Pressure: Leo Varadkar

By Hugh O’Connell  and Cormac McQuinn

Leo Varadkar has just days to decide whether to call a general election in the Republic, with Fine Gael TDs ramping up pressure on the Taoiseach to go to the country before Christmas.

With Brexit stalled due to the EU’s granting of a ‘flextension’ and a general election looming in the UK, Fine Gael sources said there was a 50-50 chance a vote would be called in Ireland by the weekend.

Fine Gael TD and former EU affairs minister Dara Murphy broke ranks yesterday to publicly declare it was right time to organise an election.

He joined the many ministers and Fine Gael TDs who are privately pressuring the Taoiseach to call a snap poll, with November 29 the most likely date.

Party sources said preparations for a vote were “very advanced”, with a manifesto said to be almost finalised.

Last night Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said Mr Varadkar may feel a December general election in the UK gives him time to hold one in Ireland.

He claimed Fine Gael would make the election about Brexit to distract from “their failure to address the crisis in healthcare, the lack of affordable housing and the rising cost of living.”

Fine Gael TD Mr Murphy said he believed the time was right for an election.

“I can see a strong argument for that because there is very little now that will be happening in Brussels and very little in the UK, apart from their general (election),” he added.

Mr Murphy said the election in the UK and the changeover in the leadership of EU institutions in December presented an opportunity for a vote in Ireland.

The Irish Independent reported this week that many Fine Gael cabinet ministers favour a snap election in November.

One minister said yesterday there was space for a November election. Another told government advisers: “The window is closing fast, but it’s still ajar.”

Junior minister Andrew Doyle said he did not know if there would be an election but would be ready if one was announced.

Speaking privately, a Fine Gael backbench TD said that a “three-month window of opportunity” had been created by the Brexit extension.

They added they believed a decision would be made before the weekend because a writ to hold four by-elections on November 29 is to be moved next week. This would close off the possibility of a general election.

“There’s a 50-50 chance at this moment that we’ll have a general election under way by the weekend,” the TD explained.

Another Fine Gael TD said: “The argument about having an election in November being a national sabotage has slipped. If we wait until May, we will be taking our eye off the ball.”

A different backbench TD warned that if the election was held next year, Fine Gael would be at the “whim of Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein”, who could table a no-confidence motions.

Another Fine Gael deputy said they would have preferred if Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin had agreed to a May 2020 election, as proposed by Mr Varadkar. However, failing that, “now would be an opportune time”, they added.

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