Belfast Telegraph

Republic of Ireland election closer as Fianna Fail hints at end to deal

By Kevin Doyle

A General election in the Republic this year seems increasingly likely after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he was not minded to renew his party's 'confidence and supply' arrangement with Fine Gael.

Mr Martin said he will not be giving Taoiseach Leo Varadkar "a blank cheque beyond and beyond".

Under the deal Fianna Fail agreed to facilitate the passage of three budgets, but left open the possibility of extending this to five following a review.

Over the Christmas break Mr Varadkar said he can see "no reason" why his minority government shouldn't be allowed to continue beyond next October's budget.

But when asked whether he was open-minded about extending the arrangement, Mr Martin replied: "I'm not at the moment because I need to see delivery on these issues. We need to see delivery on housing, health and justice issues."

He said Fianna Fail remained committed to a third budget, but suggested Fine Gael wasn't living up to its side of the deal.

"It will be a challenging year. We're not writing a blank cheque or anything like that. Obviously, in the third year, you want to see more delivery," Mr Martin said.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has U-turned on his plan to step down from politics by the time he's 51, insisting he will be around for as long as he is wanted.

The Fine Gael leader, who spent some time as a GP before focusing on a full-time political career, said he regretted comments he made in 2015, when he said he had an exit strategy from politics because he "definitely" wanted to do something else.

"I don't see myself in politics at 51. Whatever I do next, it will be different, not politics," the former Social Protection Minister said at the time.

However, Mr Varadkar has now said that he is in politics for the long haul. Asked if he still sees himself in politics when he is 50, he said: "I think I answered that question before and I regret answering the way I did because it was mistaken by some people as a lack of commitment to politics."

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