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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says he wants a general election in May 2020

At the party’s annual away day, Varadkar said he has always believed that the next election should take place in the summer of 2020.

Image: Leah Farrell

MAY 2020 “IS the right moment” for a general election, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told Fine Gael TDs in a speech today. 

Speaking at the party’s annual away day in Cork, Varadkar said he had always believed that the next election should take place in the summer of 2020.

This timeline would allow Varadkar go the White House for St Patrick’s Day and also ensure he can attend the EU Council meeting in March.

“I think May 2020 is the right moment. It will allow to us to complete a full parliamentary session in the new year, discharge our Government duties around St Patrick’s Day and the March European Council and have a new Government in place well in advance of the next summer recess.

“We should also, by then, have secured a Brexit Deal or have guided the country through the worst of No Deal. Though timelines, when it comes to Brexit, are unpredictable,” he said. 

The Taoiseach said it would also allow the government to spend the next few months concentrating on other items such as the Budget, Brexit, regional development, housing, health and climate action.

“I believe we can win that election. In fact, I am sure of it even though it may not become apparent until the last week or ten days of the Election Campaign,” he told his party colleagues. 

His comments come as the relationship between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil appears to be souring, with Fianna Fáil TDs stating publicly that if it weren’t for Brexit, they would have pulled the plug on this government. Meanwhile, a number of Fine Gael ministers have accused their confidence and supply partners of making “reckless” spending demands.

While Varadkar is set on a summer election, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin had his sights set on a spring election. 

At the Fianna Fáil think-in earlier this week, Martin said his party will not precipitate a general election, but predicted the public will go to the polls in early spring.

At today’s meeting, the Taoiseach took the opportunity to tell his colleagues that he had an enjoyable summer. 

“I had a great summer.  I got around the country a lot and also got a break.  But there is nowhere I would rather be than in Government, and in the Taoiseach’s office,” he said. 

Brexit

Touching on the issue of Brexit, Varadkar said avoiding the return of a hard border on this island is a government priority.

“We must protect peace on the island and the success of the all-island economy. This is why the backstop continues to be a critical component of the Withdrawal Agreement, unless and until an alternative is found. 

“And yes, we are open to alternatives as we always have been.  But they must be realistic ones, legally binding and workable in practice.”

He added that there is a significant and growing risk of no deal Brexit, adding:

“We don’t want a no-deal Brexit and we will continue our efforts to avoid one until the very last moment, but not at any cost.”

Varadkar said the government would not back down on the Irish backstop, stating that the a Withdrawal Agreement without the backstop “is no good to us”. 

“It merely kicks the can down the road until the transition phase ends in December 2020. The only difference being that the United Kingdom would legally be out of the European Union but not in any meaningful way.

“They would experience none of the consequences.  We would face 14 more months of uncertainty and sapping confidence.  It’s not an outcome that the Irish Government can agree to,” he added.

Budget

In terms of October’s Budget, Varadkar emphasised that it would not be an austerity budget, despite it being based on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. 

He said spending will rise by roughly €3 billion and an extra €900 million for public infrastructure will be spent on new schools, primary care centres, housing, roads, buses, and creating jobs.

He said there will be a package of financial supports in the event of no-deal.

We will honour the commitments we’ve made to restore and increase pay for hard-working public servants – teachers, defence forces, nurses and healthcare staff.We will also be able to provide for increased demand for health and education and disability services due to our rising and ageing population.  We will also use the Budget to step-up Climate Action.  We must do that in every Budget from now on.

Varadkar also added that the much-delayed signing of the National Broadband contract is “a major priority” in the term ahead. 

Fianna Fáil

Taking a pop at Fianna Fáil, the Taoiseach said:

“They have no solutions. No policies. No plans.  And they do not have the team to match ours.” 

While stating that the Green Party had a very good local and European election and acknowledging “they have some good policies”, Varadkar said there is no shame in adopting Green policies. 

“We should not be embarrassed to make some of those good ideas our own in the months ahead.  If it’s the right thing to do, we should do it.”

Varadkar raised concerns that a Fianna Fáil-Green Party coalition might spell the end of his days as Taoiseach, stating:

“There is a difference between green policies and the Green Party. And I am concerned that when the next General Election comes, the Green Party could be the Trojan Horse that lets Fianna Fáil back in with Micheál Martin as Taoiseach.  They’ve done it before.  We don’t want to go back to that.”

He told his party members that winning by-elections is very difficult for government parties, stating that it has only happened three times in 35 years. 

“But it can be done.  There are four by-elections and only one of the four seats was held by Fine Gael. 

“We should aim to win one and get the equivalent of something close to a Dáil quota for each of them so that our candidates will be in a strong position to take a seat when the General Election comes.”

The bu-elections are due to be held in Dublin Mid-West, Dublin Fingal, Cork North-Central and Wexford due to Frances Fitzgerald (FG), Clare Daly (I4G), Billy Kelleher (FF) and Mick Wallace (I4C) all winning seats in the last European elections.

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