Ireland’s PM sets stage for possible February election

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s Prime Minster Leo Varadkar said on Sunday he had made a decision on the timing of a general election, with many media outlets and politicians predicting a Feb. 7 poll.

FILE PHOTO: Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar arrives for a European Union Summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Belgium December 12, 2019. Aris Oikonomou/Pool via REUTERS

Speaking to national broadcaster RTE, Varadkar said he would meet his cabinet on Tuesday before announcing the date. He would have preferred to go to the country in summer but the parliamentary arithmetic has changed, he added.

A minority government led by Varadkar’s centre-right Fine Gael has ruled since 2016 after an initial three-year cooperation deal with Micheal Martin’s Fianna Fail was extended through to 2020 due to uncertainty created by Brexit talks.

With Britain set to leave the European Union at the end of this month, Varadkar and Martin had both said an election should be held by May.

However a demand by Varadkar for Fianna Fail support on a number of additional issues between now and then has raised the prospect of a snap election as early as next month if the parties cannot agree a short legislative programme.

“I have made a decision but there is some respective protocol around this so I would like to speak to the cabinet and the leader of the opposition,” said the prime minister.

“The cabinet will meet on Tuesday and the Dail (the lower house of parliament) will reconvene on Wednesday.”

Varadkar held talks with Martin last week to discuss the matter and is due to meet him again this week.

Independent lawmaker Michael Lowry, on whose support the government depends, said he expected Varadkar to call the election in early February. The headline in the Irish version of Sunday Times, meanwhile, proclaimed: “Leo Varadkar poised to call election for February 7”.

Fine Gael and centre-right Fianna Fail are closely matched in opinion polls, and some distance ahead of their other rivals, increasingly the likelihood that whoever edges ahead at the next election will lead another minority government.

Reporting by Graham Fahy; Editing by Mark Potter and Pravin Char

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