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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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A tale of two letters: Election speculation rife this week as Leo says it's 'prudent' to be ready

Leo wants to talk but Micheál’s not ready. Are we in for a bad break up?

Image: Leah Farrell

IT’S BEEN A big week of election speculation: The leaders of the two main political parties appeared to discover the medium of the letter, and yet again, a row broke out about why they are not talking to each other.

That has been the state of play this week ever since three well-known words began to be bandied around – ‘confidence and supply’.

These words might not mean much to most – but essentially, they refer to the deal Fianna Fáil signed up to facilitate Fine Gael setting up a minority government.

Even though they are the opposition, Fianna Fáil have agreed to support the government on some of the big issues, like getting a Budget passed.

The deal states that Fianna Fáil will facilitate three Budgets – the third of which is due this October.

But while the everyday punter knows there are bigger problems facing the country, this is what Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil chose to concern themselves with this week.

Essentially it boils down to this: Leo Varadkar is anxious to begin talks with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin about extending the deal. Martin only wants to sit down and chat after the Budget, which is due to take place 9 October.

‘Just another year’ appeared to be Varadkar’s mantra – and sure why not. With Varadkar still high in the polls, and confidence in the government relatively decent, things seem to be going swimmingly (some might argue that these stats mean it would also be a good time to go to the people).

The Taoiseach wants to get the renegotiations going before Budget day. Martin does not. All of this was laid out in two letters which both parties published this week.

It is no coincidence that all this talk kicked off again as Budget negotiations between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael began this week. 

However, when it looked like the Taoiseach was not going to get his way, it was time to throw the toys out of the pram.

Varadkar was out telling reporters that he was “considering” things over. This revved up matters. Next thing Fianna Fáil spokespeople were out speculating that “something else” was going on when Varadkar released that letter. 

Why would he be so transparent, asked Fianna Fáil. God forbid the public actually get informed about what is going on behind closed doors. 

Then the E word was mentioned. Election. That’s what he is pushing for, said Fianna Fáil’s Jim O’Callaghan. “Absolutely not,” said the government spokesperson.

With the Budget, the presidential election, the blasphemy referendum and not to mention the visit by US President Donald Trump in November, no one appeared to stop and think about where an election might fit in. 

0410 Fine Gael Conference_90553415 Source: Leah Farrell

He said, she said

However, come the end of the week, it was time for the two men to stand down.  After all the bluster, and the ‘he said, he said’, the election talk petered out on the shores of Salthill at the Fine Gael think-in yesterday. 

Fine Gael backbenchers who were in attendance at the away day in Galway even admitted it was a lot of ado about nothing. Some predicted this government will last until 2020, while others said an election will be held this time next year. 

One Fine Gael TD said Micheáł Martin is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

“With Fianna Fáil’s numbers, they either go to the polls and take their chances or they stick it out and continue to get beaten with a stick by their membership who are questioning what they are at all.

“Another option is they do OK in an election but the only real prospect of getting in power is with the support of Sinn Féin. They appear to be a better fit with Sinn Féin than we are.”

Coalition potential

Some might say that Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald are getting on a lot better these days – is that a sign of things to come, a future coalition perhaps?

Another Fine Gael TD said that was “a scary thought” but didn’t rule it out.

Would Varadkar sign up to a confidence and supply deal with another party? The Taoiseach said yesterday that he is “not contemplating that”. 

Either way, thoughts of an election didn’t appear to feature on the minds of ministers, such as Simon Coveney, while he posed for photos with old ladies in the lobby of the Galway Bay Hotel yesterday. He has enough to be dealing with this week – Brexit, the North and the Middle East. No time for election talk. 

However, some of the media opportunities the Taoiseach has attended this week scream ‘election campaign’. Job announcements, school openings and his first trip to the Aran Islands. 

While election talk seemed to be dissipating yesterday afternoon, there was a glint in the Taoiseach’s eye when asked if he is election ready.

It’s prudent to be ready for “all eventualities”, he said with a grin and was quick to point out that Fine Gael election candidates have been selected in all but four constituencies.

The remaining selection conventions will take place in the coming weeks, he added. 

Is that the sound of starting gun? If photos of Leo Varadkar and Eoghan Murphy emerging from the sea in Salthill appear this morning, we can surely bet that such a PR stunt is a sure sign that it’s on.

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