Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has all but ruled out forcing an election this year — but has strongly hinted he is prepared to go to the polls in spring 2019 amid ongoing tension within his party.
Despite senior Fianna Fáil TDs saying they want to end the confidence and supply deal when it runs out this autumn, Mr Martin yesterday said he is “fully determined” to see the agreement through to the end.
Speaking on RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, the Fianna Fáil leader downplayed growing talk of an imminent vote by saying his party will facilitate Fine Gael staying in power for three budgets.
Mr Martin said that while Fine Gael believes the deal ends in October, his interpretation is the passing of the budget-linked social welfare and finance bills in November and December is also “specifically” included, ruling out a 2018 election unless the deal itself is scrapped.
“Well, obviously we’ve honoured the agreement up until now and I’m fully determined that we continue to honour the agreement. That’s with three budgets and then a review at the end of 2018, that’s what’s specifically written into the confidence and supply.
“When we say we want a budget passed, that does mean a finance act and a social welfare bill, of course it does, because you have to give effect to the measures announced,” he said, adding “I don’t think people want elections”.
The attempt to stretch out the confidence and supply deal deadline by three months means Mr Martin has all but ruled out a 2018 election.
However, while the decision is likely to lead to fresh anger within his party’s ranks after a number of TDs, including public expenditure spokesperson Barry Cowen, last week warned an election is imminent, it has been noted Mr Martin’s timeline means an early 2019 election is now likely.
Mr Martin’s comments came as Independent Alliance ministers said they want Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to agree to a six-month extension of the deal to avoid a pre-Brexit election.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath and Skills Minister John Halligan said they want a short extension in the national interest, warning the party which calls an early vote could be blamed for the return of a hard border.
“It is incumbent on both of them to put the country’s interests first, they should hammer out a gentleman’s agreement for six more months,” said Mr Halligan.
Mr McGrath said while ministers are “talking about it [an election] every day” it would be “absolute lunacy to have it before the conclusion of the Brexit talks”.
By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent