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Sam Boal
Let's Get Together

Taoiseach says he'll meet Micheál Martin for new year talks about keeping this government going

Leo Varadkar says he will reply to the Fianna Fail leader’s letter next week.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said he will reply to the letter he received from Micheál Martin in relation to the next general election. 

He also said he plans to meet with the Fianna Fáil leader in the new year to agree a legislative progamme for 2020.

Last week, the Fianna Fáil leader wrote to the Taoiseach and requested that they agree an election date, indicating that the “sensible and logical option” was to agree to a set of legislative priorities up until the Easter break.

Martin told reporters yesterday that he followed up the letter with a text to Varadkar to say that he was available for talks. 

The confidence and supply deal between the two parties (which keeps the show on the road for this government) will become “untenable” if a legislative programme for the new year is not set out, said Martin 

“The alternative is, if there’s an agreement, a sensible agreement to wind down the Dáil with legislation that can pass that affects people,” said the Cork TD.

Varadkar said today that he plans to reply to Martin’s letter shortly:

“What I will do is respond to the letter from the leader of Fianna Fáil. I received that last week and I will respond to it this week with a view towards us meeting in the new year to discuss the situation.”

However, the Taoiseach took issue with Martin’s use of the phrase, ‘there needs to be orderly wind-down of the government and the Dail’.

“I don’t believe the government should ever be wound down. Our country has lots of challenges and lots of problems and it should always, always be busy and focused on dealing with those problems. And that applies to the Dail and it applies to the government as well. And what I don’t want to see is a three or four months of an election campaign.

“The Dail and government effectively focusing on that, rather than focusing on the business of government and dealing with the problems that people face in their everyday life. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re paid to do and that’s what we should be doing. So I’d be concerned but any idea that would be winding down any government or Dail, what we should do is agree an ambitious agenda for those three or four months, agree legislation that we’re going to get through, every policy that we’re going to implement. So that we are all focused on that and not looking towards develop ballot boxes,” said Varadkar.

Timing of the next election

In his Christmas roundtable interview with the media this afternoon, Varadkar said he’s always said the timing of an election will be when it is right for the country.

“And it’s in the best interest of the country and that may not necessarily be in the interest of me, or the interest of my party, as some of my party colleagues tell me all the time. But when it happens, it will happen because it’s the right time for the country, and I’ll have to reflect on that obviously over the Christmas break,” he added.

He also acknowledged that it may not be his choosing when the next election is called, stating that the Dáil arithmetic has changed over the years. 

“It has changed considerably from when the confidence and supply agreement was first signed three and half years ago,” he said, adding that Fianna Fáil abstaining in any possible motion of confidence ”is not enough”.

Varadkar said he must also meet with Independent TDs to ensure their support for the next Dail term.

“I need to ensure that we continue to have the support of about nine independents. So ministers, some not, who generally vote with the government, so I need to speak to them, and reaffirm their support for any arrangement that we might come to between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Keeping the Independents on side

“And out of respect to them I need to talk to them in the new year and see if they’re willing to sign up to this,” he said.

There is one other glaring problem for the Taoiseach, the fact that some TDs in Fianna Fáil have said they will not abstain from any future motions of confidence in the government, namely that of rogue TD John McGuinness.

“And of course, Fianna Fáil is a problem too, internally there are members of Fianna Fáil who has said that they won’t support this approach and will vote against the government in any future conference motion. So, I would need to get the assurance from Micheal Martin that he actually has support of his party for this. And if he’s going to have dissidents in his party that go against the whip that he will able to provide people who counterbalance that, perhaps by voting with us on motions rather than abstaining,” he said.

Varadkar said he would need to know that if they reach an agreement in the new year that Micheál Martin actually has the support of all of his party for it.

“I know if I come to an agreement on extending confidence and supply through to April or May, I’m confident I will have unanimous support from my parliamentary party for that. Given what has been said by John McGuinness, and there may be others, it is reasonable for us to say that we don’t know that Fianna Fáil is united behind their leader on this issue and we would need to know that.

“There is no point in coming up to an agreement with Fianna Fáil only to find that there is a breakdown within Fianna Fáil and they can’t honour their side of it.”

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