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Contingency plans for another election spark row between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil

Leo Varadkar is to contact Micheál Martin today over comments made by two Fianna Fáil TDs.

The Fianna Fail negotiating team.
The Fianna Fail negotiating team.
Image: Sam Boal

THE GOVERNMENT FORMATION talks have been “damaged” by comments made by two Fianna Fáil TDs who criticised contingency plans that are in motion for another general election, according to Fine Gael.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that Minister Eoghan Murphy and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government were putting in place plans of how an election could be held in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

The plan is understood to detail how voting in an election could be held over a number of days, with cocooners getting a postal vote.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen and Thomas Byrne reacted to the plans, with Cowen stating that he hoped the plans were not being made. 

“If true it smacks of bad faith, selfishness and putting party before country!” he tweeted.

Byrne said it was “utterly sick” for polling to be carried out in nursing homes.

In a statement today, Fine Gael said talks with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were going well.

It continued to defend the contingency planning:

“Yesterday, it was reported that officials in the Franchise section of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government were making contingency plans for polling in the coming months. 

“The Constitution and the law are clear on this. Elections, by-elections and referenda must happen within defined timeframes once vacancies arise. There is no specific provision for public health emergencies (eg pandemics) envisaged in the Constitution or the law. Officials were only doing their jobs by scenario planning for all eventualities.”

The Fine Gael statement said “the fact that this prompted an attack on Fine Gael by two senior Fianna Fail spokespeople was unwarranted and has damaged the talks process”.

“It is also rather ironic that one of the two had recently claimed falsely that both parties had agreed to hold a referendum within weeks of forming a Government, presumably during a pandemic,” said the party. 

Fine Gael highlighted that by-elections have to happen within six months of a vacancy occurring, while a referendum must be held not less than 30 days and not more than 90 days following the passing of a Constitutional Amendment Bill by both Houses of the Oireachtas.

A general election should take place not later than 30 days after a dissolution of the Dáil, Fine Gael pointed out.

The statement concluded by stating that the leader of Fine Gael Leo Varadkar would contact Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin today about the matter.

Speaking on Newstalk’s On The Record With Gavan Reilly, the Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said says doesn’t think the”public would look too kindly” on anyone looking for another general election.

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A source close to the talks said that the Greens should grab the chance of going into government with both hands, stating they might not get anothe chance for many, many years to come.

Talks between the parties are set to resume next week, but concerns are mounting that even if the parties agree to a programme for government, they might have trouble convincing grassroots members to sign up to a coalition.

Each party must get approval from their respective members if they are going to enter into government together. 

It is understood that if talks do breakdown, before the prospect of an election is broached, pressure could be put on Fianna Fáil to talk with Sinn Féin, something Micheál Martin has categorically ruled out.

One Fine Gael TD said President Michael D Higgins might not view the prospect of going back to the people in the middle of a pandemic too kindly.

Speaking to RTE’s Today Show during the week, Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness said Fianna Fail now has to consider going into government with Sinn Fein and Fine Gael as the current discussions are “not realistic”.

“They should get on with it and start talking. If we don’t do that,  and maybe the reason why we have no government, is because we continue to talk to Fine Gael and to the Greens with no real outcomes emerging,” he said.

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