'Leo foolish to talk about backing Fianna Fail', claims own minister
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has sparked alarm within his own party after suggesting he would prop up a Fianna Fail-led government after the next election.
As Fine Gael's autumn think-in drew to a close, the Taoiseach said he would have to consider a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Micheal Martin if he loses the election next May.
Fianna Fail has kept the Government in power since 2016, but few within Fine Gael expected Mr Varadkar to be so open to reciprocating the arrangement.
One minister told the Herald he was "foolish" to talk in terms of a Fine Gael election defeat.
Another senior figure described the comments as an "own-goal".
Mr Varadkar sought yesterday to reclaim some of the initiative by insisting he will win the election.
"First of all, let there be no doubt about this. It is my intention and my plan and my expectation that Fine Gael will win the next election when it comes in May 2020," he said in Cork.
"We will be the largest party and as the largest party we will do what the largest party always does, which is seek to form a government - ideally a coalition government with a majority.
"While confidence and supply has worked reasonably well for just over three years now, a majority government would be better for the country, and that's what I want us to be in a position to do."
Mr Varadkar left open the possibility of a "grand coalition" with Fianna Fail, but shut the door on helping Mr Martin become Taoiseach if Fine Gael remains the biggest party in Leinster House.
In circumstances where Fianna Fail is the second- biggest party, Mr Varadkar would not facilitate the party forming a government.
"I am certainly not ruling out any future arrangement with Fianna Fail, either confidence and supply or coalition," he said.
"We certainly would not entertain a situation whereby we were the largest party in the Dail and we were then somehow asked to facilitate the second and fourth and fifth party forming a government."
Asked whether his own party would allow him to remain as leader if it lost the election, Mr Varadkar replied: "Our party rules are there for anyone to see.
"If after an election we are not forming a government, then there is a ballot of Oireachtas members as to whether they want me to continue or not."
Fine Gael TDs, senators and election candidates spent much of the past two days discussing a "better deal for families", which is likely to be a central theme of the party's election campaign.
Housing is likely to be key to the election, but the Taoiseach said he is confident the situation will be improving by next May.
"I don't think that I'll be able to say that the housing crisis is solved, but I am confident that when we get to May, people will see that we're making real progress," he said.
"Sometimes you have to be making that progress for perhaps two or three years before people really feel it and see it in their own lives and communities."