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Sunday 19 January 2020

Taoiseach rallies the troops for early election as Brexit certainty clears way for poll

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is said to be in full election mode
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is said to be in full election mode
FF leader Micheal Martin is said to be in full election mode

An election is on the cards for early next year after certainty was finally brought to the Brexit question.

Senior figures in all the main parties believe Boris Johnson's landslide victory has cleared the way for an election here, with polling likely in February.

"The game is on," a senior Fianna Fail TD said.

"I'd say there'll be an election in the month of February."

The Herald has learned that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told a private gathering of Fine Gael figures earlier this week that they need to come back after Christmas and "make history" by securing a third term.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail, which committed to propping up the Government until the Brexit impasse was resolved, is also gearing up for a post-Christmas election.

Mandate

Mr Johnson is expected to bring the Brexit deal, which includes a trade border down the Irish Sea, back before the House of Commons next week.

With a new mandate and a Conservative majority of 80 seats, he should finally have enough support to take the UK out of the EU on January 31.

However, the fallout from the election has firmly put Scottish independence and a united Ireland on the political agenda.

Senior figures in Fine Gael believe an election early in the new year is possible given the minority Government's precarious position in Dail votes, with February the most likely time.

"The numbers aren't there and the Government is not in control of its own destiny after Christmas," a Government insider said.

One of Mr Varadkar's closest aides and head of government policy John Carroll is set to move to Fine Gael HQ in January to spearhead the campaign.

Mr Varadkar provided an update on election preparations at the Fine Gael staff Christmas party this week, where his "make history" comments were described by one senior minister as "an attempt to rally the troops".

Mr Varadkar has also reunited a number of ministers who were central to his leadership campaign, including Eoghan Murphy, Michael D'Arcy and John Paul Phelan.

"It's like the leadership election," one of those involved said.

The Government party will seek to bounce back from a series of damaging controversies by dealing decisively with a number of internal issues in the coming weeks.

These include the future of Wexford candidate Verona Murphy and the Dara Murphy double-jobbing debacle.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, the party's director of organisation, is set to handle both internal party matters, which have damaged Fine Gael's standing with the public.

During the campaign, Fine Gael is expected to argue it is the only party that can be trusted to manage the next stages of Brexit.

It will also defend its record on health and housing, which is likely to come under sustained attack from Fianna Fail and other opposition parties.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's time as health minister and the ministerial records of other Fianna Fail TDs, such as Willie O'Dea and Eamon O Cuiv, will also be targeted.

Also in the firing line could be Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister in the FF-Green government, who could do another deal with Fianna Fail.

Fine Gael ministers have also discussed issuing a stark warning to voters that Fianna Fail will lead a radical left-wing government, possibly with Sinn Fein support.

Tight

"What's emerging is likely to be the most left-wing government in the history of the State if Fine Gael aren't in government," a Fine Gael minister said.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Varadkar said he was prepared to meet with Mr Martin to discuss the timing of the election in the new year.

"That may be neither in my control or that of the leader of Fianna Fail when you look at how tight the numbers were the last time," the Taoiseach said.

The discussion followed comments on radio by Mr Martin, who said that the UK general election landslide win for Boris Johnson, which finally unblocks Brexit, did not mean there should be an Irish general election next January or February.

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