herald

Saturday 24 August 2019

Taoiseach opens door for a potential general election later this year

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about results
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke about results

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has opened the door to a general election in the coming months, saying, "I'm certainly not ruling it out".

He was speaking as political parties counted the wins and losses in the local and European elections.

Mr Varadkar said he won't be dissolving the Dail in the coming days or weeks but indicated it may happen before this year's Budget.

Asked whether he would go to the country rather than hold a number of Dail by-elections, the Fine Gael leader told RTE a number of factors were at play that could lead to an election, including the political landscape in the UK and the possibility of the opposition pulling the plug on the Government here.

Factors

"If I'm the one to seek a dissolution I have to bear in mind other factors, not just the result of these elections but also what's going on across the water in relation to Brexit and the need to have a stable Government," he said.

"Brexit is going to go on for a long time I believe; UK politics is going to be consumed by it.

"Also take into account other factors like getting through a budget in September/October and by-elections possibly happening in that period as well."

Mr Varadkar was speaking at the RDS yesterday where counting was under way following Friday's local elections.

Voters in parts of the country will head back to the polls for by-elections later this year.

A number of Dail vacancies are expected to arise.

However, Fine Gael sources suggested Mr Varadkar will have a very big call to make as to whether he should hold the by-elections or bring the entire country to the polls for a general election instead.

Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar is planning a meeting this week with Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey who sparked controversy over planned proceedings - which she has instructed her solicitors to withdraw - over a fall from a swing at a Dublin hotel.

The Herald understands that Ms Bailey faces being temporarily expelled from the party or even losing a €9,500 salary top-up as a result of her compensation claim over the fall.

Senior party figures, including the Taoiseach, are privately furious with the Dun Laoghaire TD for allowing the controversy to run for six days before withdrawing the case.

Mr Varadkar has now admitted the case caused "reputational damage" at a time when the Government is under pressure over insurance costs for business, and MEP Mairead McGuinness said it "did impact" on Fine Gael's campaign.

There is speculation among parliamentary party members that Ms Bailey could be forced to give up her chairmanship of the Oireachtas Housing Committee as punishment. The prestigious role comes with a €9,500 salary top-up.

It is understood Mr Varadkar is minded to refer the episode to Fine Gael's executive council which will convene an investigation. It has the power to expel Ms Bailey from the party for a period of time.

Ms Bailey lodged the personal injuries claim on the basis that she suffered injuries to her head, lower back and hip after falling off the swing in the well-known Dean hotel.

Court documents described her as a "keen runner" who had to reduce her activities since the accident.

However, the Irish Independent revealed on Saturday that she completed a 10k three weeks after the incident.

Meanwhile, Eamon Ryan and the Green Party defied all expectations and made major gains in last Friday's election.

In both the European and local elections the Green Party's vote has hit record-breaking highs.

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