Leah Farrell
Friday Night Lights

Eyes on February election as Varadkar schedules parliamentary party meeting for Friday

Will Leo cut and run?

WITH TAOISEACH LEO Varadkar set to meet with the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin later this week and Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting scheduled for this Friday, speculation is mounting once again that a February general election could be on the cards. 

Speaking to reporters today in Government Buildings, Varadkar said he planned to meet Martin at the end of the week to discuss, among other things, the timing of an election. 

The Taoiseach today dismissed suggestions that Fine Gael’s demands about priority legislation, property tax reforms, and Fianna Fáil supporting the government rather than abstaining during votes, would be too big an ask for Martin.

“He set out his position in his letter and I set out my position in mine, which I sent just before Christmas. The next step is for us to meet and discuss it and it’s intended that that will happen later this week,” Varadkar told reporters today. 

There’s informed speculation around Leinster House that the Taoiseach knows well he’s asking too much of Martin, and that the fallout could be a snap election.

However, there are also other events this week that also point to a possible February election.

What’s happening… 

Varadkar is due to sit down with Martin either on Thursday or Friday, while the Taoiseach and his ministers are also due to have another special Cabinet meeting in Marino in Dublin on Thursday.

Marino is in the constituency of Minister of State and Independent Alliance member Finian McGrath – so the meeting could be seen as a move to keep McGrath and the independents on side as we approach an election. 

After meeting with Martin about when an election might be held, that Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting is also being held on Friday. 

Parliamentary party meetings occur every week that the Dáil is in session, but rarely when it is not – and it is even more rare that such meetings would be called on a Friday. 

As one senior government source stated to Why drag all the rural TDs up to Dublin just days before the Dáil is set to return (on Wednesday 15 January) if the issue is not one of the utmost importance? 

Over Christmas, the Taoiseach remained active on social media – including one video setting out his priorities for 2020. Some in Leinster House said the clip essentially amounted to a 2020 manifesto video. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to the media today at a press conference in Government Buildings. 

And the Government will keep up its media assault tomorrow as another senior figure, Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, publishes Project Ireland 2040′s progress report. 

The senior source who spoke to this website said that having reflected on the issues over Christmas, the Taoiseach had probably made up his mind as to what he intends to do already. 

With a Stormont deal expected to be signed off by the end of the week, a Brexit deal done and a meeting with Boris Johnson in the offing in the next week or two, as well as mounting speculation today that the government will step in to bail out the FAI, it will never be a better time for Fine Gael and the Taoiseach to push the election button, they said.  

With the numbers of trolleys rising, and the homelessness figures showing little improvement, “things will only get worse” for Fine Gael, the senior source stated. 

A second government source who spoke to this publication in recent weeks said that Brexit was the best card Fine Gael could play, and that the clear result in December’s UK election made an early election even more likely. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is on the record as stating that he wants the election to be held in May 2020.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said Easter time would be the “natural” end to this government. 

Before Christmas, Martin wrote to the Taoiseach and requested that the two agree a date, but Varadkar did not reply straight away. Martin even followed up by text message. Varadkar eventually wrote back on 23 December. 

The confidence and supply deal between the two parties (which keeps the show on the road for this government) will become “untenable” if a renewed priority list of legislation is not agreed to, Martin said before Christmas. 

So can the two party leaders find a middle ground, or will the Taoiseach ultimately cut and run?

Senior sources in government are predicting that having met with Martin, had a possible final Cabinet meeting in his independent colleague’s constituency, and informed his parliamentary party members that they have reached the end of the road for this government, the Taoiseach will be minded to come back to the Dáil next Wednesday, take to his feet, and tell the Ceann Comhairle that he is off to see the president at Áras an Uachtaráin.

If this is how things play out, we could be looking at an election on 7 or even 14 February. 

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