herald

Monday 10 December 2018

Martin's attack on FG Budget 'spin' raises prospect of general election

Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin
Fianna Fail’s Micheal Martin

A general election is edging closer after Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attacked the Government yesterday for being "obsessed with spin".

Mr Martin's comments on Budget 2019 added to doubts cast over the future of the current confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael.

He further fuelled growing speculation that the country is heading for an election by saying Brexit is not an excuse to avoid one.

Mr Martin has assured the EU task force that a change of government would not alter Ireland's approach to the nego- tiations.

He criticised ministers yesterday for compiling videos on the Budget's contents even before it was agreed, and claimed that as a result of their efforts to spin news of the Budget, much of the detail remains unknown.

Mr Martin spoke as senior politicians expressed doubts that a new confidence and supply arrangement can be thrashed out in a reasonable time frame.

Confident

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone, an Independent, said it "wouldn't completely surprise" her if there was an election before the end of the year.

A number of Fine Gael ministers have privately told the Herald they would be confident in taking to the campaign trail on the back of a Budget that gave everybody €5 extra a week.

This view has been heightened by the attack from Mr Martin, who said: "No party has a divine right to power, no matter how much time it spends praising itself."

On Brexit, Mr Martin warned: "In case anyone tries to use the Brexit situation as an excuse for claiming there is instability, we have assured Ireland's European partners of the stability of Ireland's negotiating position and that nothing will be done to interfere with a deal being done and implemented."

No talks on the confidence and supply deal are expected to take place before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar attends a crucial EU summit on Brexit next week.

Many in Fine Gael believe if a deal guaranteeing a soft border is secured by mid-November, Mr Varadkar should go to the country immediately.

December 7 has been identified as a workable date, and ministers have discussed using an "omnibus bill" to fast-track social welfare changes announced in the Budget.

A number of ministers told the Herald it would be better to call an election now rather than allow Fianna Fail to "string out" talks until the seasonal homelessness and hospital trolley crises are at their peak.

One minister said an election was now likely to become "a self-fulfilling prophecy".

However, another cautioned that an election "might just see everybody back negotiating a confidence and supply deal in three months anyway".

Opinions are even more div- ided in Fianna Fail, where some TDs are adamant that there is nothing to be gained from continuing to prop up the Government.

Others believe they should not rush to the polls for the sake of political expediency.

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