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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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General Election

Varadkar says he isn't going anywhere and slaps down suggestions of early election next spring

Varadkar said his party are going to try and hold on to their 250 seats in the local elections next year.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said there are no plans for an early election, stating that he plans to lead his party into the next general election and form a government. 

Some mutterings have been heard around Leinster House that a spring election could be in the offing next year, but Varadkar slapped down the suggestion when speaking to reporters this week after the final Cabinet meeting of the summer. 

“There are no plans for an early general election, we are focussing on the job and a lot of the things the government needs to get done in the next couple of months, particularly helping families with the cost of living and supporting business, making our communities safer and really driving forward home ownership,” he said. 

“The next national elections that will occur are the local and European elections, in June of next year,” added the Fine Gael leader. 

Varadkar has lost some of his key supporters in the party in recent months, with some announcing that they are stepping away from politics and won’t be seeking re-election.

With Fine Gael suffering some of its lowest ratest in the polls recently, the big question is if the party leader can hold his ground. 

‘I’m a long way off 50′

Varadkar has been accused of being a ‘career politician’ in the past – after comments he made about retiring from politics at 50 – and has seen fellow politicians like John Paul Phelan and Brendan Griffin recently announce their plans to step away from politics at a relatively young age. Does he ever think life might be easier if he stepped back and returned to a life in medicine? 

“I’m a long way off 50, for a start,” said the 44-year-old, who joked that his adviser has told him never to remark about his retirement from politics again, “because it could be misinterpreted as a lack of commitment and desire, which there isn’t”.

“It is not something I have given consideration to. I’m enormously privileged to lead this government, to be somebody who’s been able to help hold the office of the Taoiseach twice, and very much focused on the job,” he said. 

However, some politicians, even those within his own party, have stated privately that there is a marked difference in the Varadkar who served as Taoiseach in his first term as compared to now. 

Again, Varadkar batted away such a suggestion, stating: 

“The first term, I think about what was done: leading the country through the early phase of the pandemic, saving so many jobs, saving so many lives.

“Leading the country through Brexit without a hard border between North and South, protecting our economy. Leading the country from unemployment to full employment and from austerity to prosperity, which is a lot.

“But then I think of all the things that we haven’t done yet, which is to make ownership a reality for people in their 20s and 30s like it used to be. That has to be a real focus for the next couple of years,” he said. 

Helping people deal with the cost of living and deal with inflation which is “biting very hard” is also a priority for Varadkar, he said. 

“The truth is, there are always challenges and there are always problems,” he added. 

Local elections

Turning to elections, does Varadkar feel the pressure to have a good day at next year’s local elections? 

His party had a very good local elections last time, he said, stating that its his aim to hold on to their 250 seats.

Varadkar said it is “going to be tough, but I think it’s possible and we’re going to work with our councillors to do exactly that”.

“I would definitely say is that it’s a big mistake to think that local elections predict the outcome of general elections, even if it [a general electoin] only comes six to eight months later. That’s what happened last time. A very bad day for Sinn Féin (in 2019) and yet they were the largest party within seven or eight months without changing their leader,” he said. 

After Fianna Fáil’s performance in the last local elections, most commentators predicted that that they would win the general election, he said.

“They actually lost seats. So I think it’s evident that thinking that local and European election results will result in a similar national election result is a presumption too far,” he added. 

When asked if he would step down as leader of FG if the party lose ten Dáil seats in the general election, Varadkar said:

I’m not going to get into that. I’m leading the party into the next election and hoping to form government afterwards and we’ll see what happens after that.

Varadkar said his party is looking for new candidates to join the party – women and men, young and old, and from different backgrounds.

Underselling political life

However, he said some potential candidates have concerns about getting involved in political life and he warned against politicians only speaking about the bad sides of the job.

“I had the chance in the last couple of weeks to sit down with some people whom I’m keen to have run in elections – they are my age and younger and you know, some are women, [and] they do express concerns about safety or the impact on the family life, or abuse on social media.

“All those things are real. What I would always say back to them is the positive sides of politics, the opportunities, are very real too. The chance to represent your community, the chance to represent your country, the chance to move away from giving out about things that frustrate you to actually being able to change them – that can be very rewarding as well.”

“Sometimes we as politicians talk down our profession, everyone does it about their job, but I think we as politicians need to reflect on that, and not deny the many downsides of being in public life, but really talk about the many great things too because you won’t get any people into any job if the people who are in the job only talk about the negative,” said the Taoiseach. 

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