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No election in 2019 as confidence and supply agreement to continue for a year

Fine Gael said the move “further strengthens Ireland’s hand in negotiating a successful outcome to Brexit”.

Image: Leah Farrell

Updated Dec 12th 2018, 7:10 PM

FIANNA FAIL HAS committed that it will not bring down the Fine Gael minority government next year, ruling out an election in 2019.

Leader Micheál Martin confirmed in a speech in the Dail this afternoon that the party will continue to prop up Fine Gael through the confidence and supply agreement until 2020.

After the 2016 general election, Fianna Fáil eventually agreed to support Fine Gael in power for three budgets, by committing to not bring down the government or vote against it on key votes, as long as Fine Gael upheld its end of the bargain.

After the last budget, both parties were in negotiations over extending the confidence and supply arrangement further, but no decision had yet been reached. 

Martin said today that despite his misgivings with Fine Gael’s record, his party would be extending the agreement as a result of the uncertainty posed by Brexit. 

Speaking in the Dáil, Martin hit out at UK Conservative politicians over the current Brexit impasse, saying that the leaders had “extreme Europhobia” and that the party had “descended in open warfare between rival factions”.

As things stand in England, Prime Minister Theresa May faces a motion of no confidence this evening from her own party over her attempt to negotiate a Brexit deal with the EU.

In a statement released after Martin’s announcement, a spokesperson for Fine Gael noted that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wrote to the Fianna Fáil leader in August “setting out an ambitious programme as part of an extension of the current Confidence and Supply Arrangement, and seeking an agreed election date for the summer of 2020″.

The spokesperson welcomed Fianna Fáil’s commitment to extend the confidence and supply agreement, saying this “further strengthens Ireland’s hand in negotiating a successful outcome to Brexit, and securing all that we have achieved to date”.

“Our programme focuses on Brexit, job creation, investment in infrastructure including health and housing, and meeting the needs of hard-working Irish families. We are determined to ensure that the social and economic progress made since 2016 can continue,” they added. 

No deal

Martin also accused Fine Gael of not being properly prepared in the case of a no deal Brexit scenario, which he said would have a strongly negative impact on the Irish economy. 

He said that the government had not made the proper provisions to protect the country from the impact of Brexit.

“The situation is that Ireland is facing a major threat and great uncertainty,” he said. 

He said that because the uncertainty his party had sought a review of various matters to do with the government and that it had shown a “complacency” on its part in many areas. 

“In normal times this would cause an election… but these are not normal times,” Martin said.

To replace this government would require a lengthy election campaign… and most likely a lengthy period of negotiations.

Martin said that Fianna Fáil was determined that “political chaos in London not be allowed to spread to Ireland”. 

For that reasons he said the party would continue their arrangement with Fine Gael until the certainty around Brexit was resolved. 

Going into more detail with the media this afternoon, Martin said that an election is now likely in Spring 2020. 

If it weren’t for the Brexit situation, the confidence and supply deal would be dead, he said, adding that Fianna Fáil still has “huge issues” with the delivery on housing and health. 

However, Martin could not provide any specific measures he sought from the Taoiseach in exchange for his support going forward, other than the passage of some legislation his party are keen to see progressed. 

Martin said affordable housing is something his party will be seeking progress on. 

‘These are not normal times’

When asked by TheJournal.ie how he planned to sell this extension to the grassroots of his party, Martin admitted that some within the party will be unhappy the deal has been extended, however, he believes the public will be happy. 

He reiterated that the threat of a no-deal Brexit overshadows everything. Martin said it was a “very challenging decision” to make, adding that he believes the majority in the parliamentary party will support the decision he has taken. 

Martin said the public could not face into six weeks to two months of uncertainty if an election were to be held, stating that in the last number of weeks the public have been getting increasingly anxious about the threat of Brexit. 

“These are not normal times,” he said, adding that Brexit left him with “no choice”.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney this evening thanked Martin for extending the agreement with Fine Gael stating that it will now allow the government continue making plans for what could be an uncertain future. 

He would not state that Fine Gael had essentially been given a free pass by Fianna Fáil. 

Coveney said there would be no additions to the confidence and supply document, adding that the two parties will continue to work off the same paper it agreed to in 2016. He added that there was still lots to do.

“This deal is a mature, sensible decision,” he said, adding that there was no threat or pressure from Fine Gael or the Taoiseach last night.

Coveney could not state whether the deal would be extended for another year after 2020, neither could he give a guarantee that an election would not be held sooner, stating that these things cannot be predicted. However, he added that Fine Gael does not have an appetite for an election. Coveney said the public did not have one either. 

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald spoke after Martin’s speech, strongly criticising both the Fine Gael government and Fianna Fail for supporting them. 

Dubbing the parties “Tweedledum and Tweedledee” she said Fianna Fáil continued to fail in holding the government to account. 

Labour’s Brendan Howlin called on the confidence and supply documents to be published. 

“Over a number of weeks detailed talks were held with input from civil servants, and a review of policy developments and failures in most departments.

“It is essential for full public transparency that those documents are now released, and clarification provided on what concessions were made to secure a one year extension of the minority government.

“Across health, housing, and in the provision of broadband this Government is clearly failing. The Labour Party is ready for an election. The people deserve better than a further 12 months of ‘do little’ government,” he said.

With reporting by Órla Ryan 

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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