herald

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Pressure on Leo for snap election in November

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is coming under pressure from his own ministers to call a general election before Christmas.

The Herald understands that many Fine Gael cabinet ministers now privately favour a snap election in November and that it is a "live possibility" provided the uncertainty over Brexit is resolved in the coming days.

Despite Mr Varadkar's publicly stated belief that May 2020 would be the best time to hold a general election, one Fine Gael minister said: "It's not about the best time, that doesn't exist - will there ever be a better time?"

Uneasy

Fine Gael has been buoyed by the fallout from the 'Votegate' controversy and a weekend opinion poll which put it eight points ahead of Fianna Fail.

Mr Varadkar is now being told he faces a "huge call" if a Brexit extension is secured and the cliff-edge of a no-deal scenario is taken off the table in the coming days.

The same minister added: "Let's be honest, this Dail is over. It's just a matter of when an election is formally called."

Fine Gael ministers are also increasingly uneasy about the prospect of holding an unprecedented four Dail by-elections on Friday, November 29 - which the Taoiseach announced last week - with the possibility that the Government party could lose all four contests with Fianna Fail making significant gains.

A second Fine Gael minister said: "From a Fine Gael perspective, of course we want it [a general election]. I mean the by-elections are the fly in the ointment. None of them are ideal.

"There are plenty of people in Fine Gael who are bursting [for a general election].

A third Fine Gael minister said they hoped there would be a general election, while a fourth said that without Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin agreeing to the May 2020 date proposed by the Taoiseach, there could be an election before Christmas.

Two senior Government sources confirmed that many Fine Gael members of Cabinet privately now favour a general election next month.

One said almost all of them do and that a pre-Christmas poll is a "live possibility" and a "huge call" for Mr Varadkar.

However, a fifth Fine Gael minister spoke against an election at the end of next month, citing Brexit and the need to pass legislation underpinning the Budget, including the finance and social welfare bills.

"We've been highlighting our own stability and responsibility. We shouldn't blindly follow the UK," the minister said.

They also hit out at those calling for a pre-Christmas general election, saying they were "not the ones with busy work progress and clear targets".

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