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Taoiseach fails to give absolute guarantee Dáil will reconvene next week

Speculation is gathering pace that the Taoiseach might call an election in the coming days.

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has failed to state whether the Dáil will return next week. 

Speaking after the special Cabinet meeting held in Marino in Dublin this morning, Varadkar was asked a number of times whether the Dáil will return after the Christmas break next Wednesday.

He was unable to give an absolute guarantee that the Dáil will reconvene next week.

Varadkar said it was not a simple yes or no answer, stating that he is meeting with the Fianna Fáil leader this evening.

“I can’t predict the outcome of the conversation I am going to have with the leader of Fianna Fáil tonight,” said the Taoiseach.

The two party leaders will discuss the next general election and decide whether the confidence and supply arrangement both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil signed up to in 2016 can continue into the next Dáil term.

The location of the meeting, due to begin at 6pm today, has even been withheld from Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, he claimed to reporters this afternoon.

However, it is understood it will take place in a room off a corridor that connects Leinster House to Government Buildings. This ‘inbetween’ room has been used in the past for such discussions between party leaders.

Politicians are due back in Leinster House next Wednesday, but speculation is gathering pace that the Taoiseach might call an election in the coming days.

Speaking to reporters today, Varadkar said the Dáil could continue if Fianna Fáil continues to abstain in important votes, as is set out in the confidence and supply agreement. 

In a letter to Martin recently, Varadkar sought an agreement that Fianna Fáil would vote with the government in the final weeks of the Dáil. Martin yesterday ruled out such a notion, stating that the Taoiseach knows well that is not part of the deal between the two parties. 

“It is the case that with Fianna Fáil continuing to abstain that the government can continue,” said the Taoiseach today, adding that there are “sufficient votes to get on with the legislative programme”.

However, he added that the Dáil numbers are “precarious” as was seen before Christmas when Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy narrowly survived a motion of no confidence with the support of some independent TDs. 

The Taoiseach acknowledged today that it does not all fall to Fianna Fáil support, stating that he has to also have talks with the independents in the House. 

“If I thought I could predict the future I would have a column in the newspaper and I don’t,” he said, adding that the outcome will not just be predicted by tonight’s meeting but also his talks with his own party. He intends to hold a parliamentary party on Friday, with the National Executive of Fine Gael meeting being held on Saturday. Ministers and ministers of State will also meet with the Taoiseach tomorrow.

“Let’s see how discussions go tonight,” he said.

With talks to get Stormont up and running making progress today, the Taoiseach was also asked if it is a perquisite for him in holding an election. 

“It’s not a prerequisite, but it is  the focus, you know, I totally understand why there’s so much speculation at the moment, among politicians and political circles and media circles about the date of an election, but I spent today at Cabinet dealing with issues on disability. After this, I’m going to be on the phone to the Tanaiste to find out how things are going in Belfast. Our priority is getting the job done,” he said. 

In his letter to Martin the Taoiseach also asked Fianna Fáil to agree to local property tax reforms, an ask many believe is a step too far for the Fianna Fáil leader to sign up to ahead of a general election. 

Varadkar said he wants to reform the property tax system, and to do so will require legislation. “I want to know I have a majority in the Dáil to get that through.”

The election talk comes as rural independents threaten to put down a motion of no confidence in Health Minister Simon Harris. Such a motion puts further spotlight on the unstable Dáil numbers for the Taoiseach.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Harris said that “the timing of the next general election, I think, will become clear in the coming days. It’s certainly not going to be very far away.”

He also said that the election could be as soon as “three, four or five weeks’ time”.

Varadkar said there is “never a good time” for an election, and that politicians can wait for “sweet spots that never actually arise”.

Deputy Leader of Fianna Fáil Dara Calleary told RTÉ’s News at One that the Taoiseach is trying to change the goalposts of the confidence and supply agreement by placing down more demands. He said it is up to the government to manage the Dáil numbers, adding that it is still his party’s view that an election date closer to Easter is more appropriate.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin has said today there is little point in the the Dáil returning next week. 

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