May 2020 'ideal time for election', says Varadkar as he blasts FF partners
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has named May 2020 as "the right moment" for the next general election and hit out at Fianna Fail claiming they "do not have a team to match ours".
Mr Varadkar was speaking at Fine Gael's think-in meeting ahead of the new Dail session.
He signalled that he wants to met US President Donald Trump in the White House for St Patrick's Day and attend an EU Council meeting in March before calling an election.
This would allow a new government to be in place "well in advance of the next summer recess".
"We should also, by then, have secured a Brexit Deal or have guided the country through the worst of No Deal, though timelines, when it comes to Brexit, are unpredictable," he said. The Taoiseach was addressing a private meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators at a party gathering in Cork.
The timeline means four by-elections - two in Dublin - caused by the election of TDs to the European Parliament will have to be held this year.
Mr Varadkar sought to limit expectation for those contests, saying Fine Gael should aim to win one.
However, he said they would win the general election and secure a historic third term
"The country is on the right track. The economy is strong with full employment and rising incomes... That is shining through," he said.
Mr Varadkar launched a blistering attack on Fianna Fail, which has been propping up the Fine Gael-led minority government.
He claimed that Micheal Martin's party is making financial promises that "can only be filled with higher taxes or greater borrowing".
"They need to come clean and tell us. There's a new promise to a new group every week. And when you promise everything to everyone, it means your promises aren't worth much. They can't be trusted," he said.
"They have no solutions, no policies, no plans - and they do not have the team to match ours."
Separately, the Herald has learned that Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe will have to find more than €100m extra to cover the cost of jobseekers' payments for every 10,000 people who become unemployed as a result of a hard Brexit.
Funds are to be set aside in the Budget for an expected rise in unemployment if the UK does crash out of the EU amid concerns that 10,000 tourism jobs could be lost.
Mr Donohoe has previously said the number of jobs at risk or lost in the early stages of a disorderly Brexit could be as high as 55,000.
This includes the number of additional jobs that would have been created if a no-deal Brexit was avoided. The combined cost of jobseeker's allowance and benefit for 10,000 extra recipients would be around €111m annually.
There would be other extra costs of up to €20m-a-year needed to fund job activation and training programmes.