June 29, 2018 / 9:57 AM / 3 months ago

Irish PM creating grounds for election - opposition leader

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland’s prime minister appears to be creating grounds to justify calling an election, the head of the main opposition party that backs his minority government said on Friday after tensions between the two rose this week.

FILE PHOTO: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael-led government operates through a “confidence and supply” deal with his party’s main rival, Fianna Fail, which agreed to abstain from opposition-driven votes against the government until the end of 2018.

Varadkar said this week he wanted talks on renewing the government pact to start well in advance of its expiry, sparking a dispute with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin who wants to stick to the deal to review it at the end of 2018.

“It seems to me that he wants to create the grounds to justify going to the country. If he does, he should say that and stop this messing about,” Martin told the Newstalk radio station.

“Most Fine Gael TDs (members of parliament) and senators were going around saying to our colleagues that Leo Varadkar wants an election and he wants it in September... If he wants an election, let him call one.”

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Fianna Fail party leader Micheal Martin speaks in Dublin, Nov. 2, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

With the issue of the Irish border holding up talks on terms for Britain’s exit from the European Union, an election directly before or after the expiry of the Fine Gael-Fianna Fail pact may be problematic - Ireland could find itself seeking to form a government in the run-up to a key Brexit summit of EU leaders in October or Britain’s scheduled departure in March.

It took Varadkar’s predecessor Enda Kenny 10 weeks to form a government after the last parliamentary elections in 2016.

Martin said his party, which trails Fine Gael in opinion poll by a wider margin than in 2016, was committed to facilitating October’s budget for 2019, after which talks between the parties could start.

The parties can extend the agreement for another two years before Varadkar would be obliged to call elections.

Failure to do so would almost certainly trigger an early election and Varadkar said this week that while he wanted to renew the deal, his government could not function if it did not know whether it would be around in three month’s time.

He said he planned to discuss a possible renewal with Martin shortly and his deputy prime minister on Friday dismissed the idea that the premier was spoiling for an election.

“We don’t want an election and I don’t think the country wants an election,” Simon Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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