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Leo Varadkar has 'made a decision' on the election but won't tell us what it is yet

The Taoiseach told RTÉ’s This Week that ‘there is protocol around this’.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is remaining tight-lipped.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is remaining tight-lipped.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 12th 2020, 5:50 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that he has “made a decision” on the calling of an election but that he won’t make it public yet. 

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme this afternoon, Varadkar said he wanted to speak to his Cabinet and to opposition leaders first, adding that “there is protocol around this”. 

Speculation has mounted in recent days that a February election could be on the cards, and the Taoiseach met with Micheál Martin on Thursday night to discuss Fine Gael’s precarious Dáil numbers.

“I’ve always said that it should only happen when it’s the right time for the country. And it’s been my view for a long time now that the right time would be the summer of 2020. But I have to acknowledge that circumstances have changed,” Varadkar said. 

“So I have made a decision. But there is some unfinished business to do which I want to get done,” he added. 

And also there is some respect and protocol around this and I would like to speak to the Cabinet, to the leaders of the opposition. So as things stand, the Cabinet will meet on Tuesday and the Dáil will reconvene on Wednesday. 

Asked directly by RTÉ’s David McCullough “you have made the decision but you’re not going to tell us?”, the Taoiseach answered: “That’s correct.”

Speaking later about the government’s record on fiscal responsibility and what other parties may say, Varadkar told listeners to “be very wary of political parties over the next couple weeks”. 

This prompted McCullough to say that the Taoiseach had confirmed that “the election campaign will be in the next couple of weeks”. 

Regardless of when the general election takes place, Fianna Fáil announced this evening that Dara Calleary would be the party’s director of elections. 

The Mayo TD fulfilled the role in last year’s local elections and will have responsibility for the candidates across all constituencies.

Paschal Donohoe was previously confirmed as Fine Gael’s director of elections. 

Health

Elsewhere in the interview, Varadkar was asked about the potential that the government could lose a vote of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris if one was called.

The Taoiseach said that he “hasn’t really run the numbers” but that losing such a vote would not automatically mean an election. 

“Legally and constitutionally that’s actually not the case, the motion would be in the minister and not the government. But a Taoiseach that can’t appoint their own Cabinet is a Taoiseach in name only,” Varadkar said. 

Varadkar acknowledged that there is a “deep crisis in our health service” and said that hearing of people who had bad experiences “pains me”.

Despite this, the Taoiseach said that progress has been made “that never really gets acknowledged” but that “it was never going to be a quick fix”. 

Varadkar also claimed that his government has only had money to reverse cuts to hospital beds “in the last couple of years”.  

We had 12,000 beds in our hospital system, in our hospitals back in 2005. A policy decision, an ideological decision was made by Fianna Fáil in government to take 2,000 beds out, to cut 2,000 beds, they did. Then there was a financial crisis, and it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve had the money to reverse that policy and we have been reversing it.

Varadkar acknowledged that where Ireland’s health service “performs badly is on access” but that when people get an appointment their experience “is actually very good”. 

“Too many people in Ireland end up in hospitals. And that’s why we need to invest in community care, general practice, primary care, social care, all of those things,” he added. 

Homelessness

Speaking about  housing crisis, Varadkar said that since he became Taoiseach the number of houses being built has trebled but that he feels that number needs to be doubled again to 40,000 a year. 

Varadkar said he feels this is possible in the next two-and-a-half years “if I’m given the chance to do so”, adding that he wants home ownership to be “a reality for everyone in this country”.

“We haven’t done enough on housing. We can do more and some of that is working by the way, you know, the fact that we build more houses last year than any year for a decade is the reason why house prices are levelling off,” he said. 

Asked about homelessness, Varadkar said he wished he could promise that people staying in a homeless hub would have a home in six months but that he could not do so.

“I think most people understand that homelessness is a complicated social issue. It’s not just about housing, and making an absolute guarantee like that to anyone will be irresponsible,” he said.

Government formation

Speaking the potential make-up of the next government after the upcoming election, the Taoiseach said he would not speak to Sinn Féin if this was required by his party.

On whether he’d support a Fianna Fáil minority government, Varadkar said: 

Not going to arise because we’re going to win the election. We’re going to be the largest party and we’re going to be the ones forming the next government.

“We will not be in a position where we become the largest party and we somehow allow the parties that come second, fourth and fifth to form a government. That will be totally anti-democratic,” he added.

Pushed on whether he would facilitate a confidence and supply agreement if Fianna Fáil was the largest party, Varadkar said: 

“There’s a lot of hypotheticals there. In that scenario, I think we would have to consider it. But as I say, my focus is on winning the election whenever it comes on whatever it’s called.”

Responding to Varadkar’s comments in ruling out doing a deal with her party, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said this evening:

I reject the idea that Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin can dictate that we or our voters are not good enough for government. We will not be excluded.

“We have just appointed Ministers to the Executive in Belfast, and this has been welcomed by the same parties that want to exclude Sinn Féin from government in Dublin The hypocrisy of Leo Varadkar and his partner Micheál Martin is stunning.” 

Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he hoped his party would be involved in forming a government but added that he felt a “continental approach” should be considered where all parties have an input.  

It’s the people that decide first of all, they have to vote Green if they want us to have a role. And I think it may be short election campaign, but I think it’ll probably take a long time afterwards for us to form a government and that mightn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

“I think we are we should move towards different types of politics where all parties are involved.”

Varadkar and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are due to meet the leaders of Northern Ireland’s restored power-sharing executive in Belfast tomorrow

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About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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