Ireland’s main opposition party extends deal with government

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Ireland’s main opposition party has agreed to extend its parliamentary deal with the country’s minority coalition government.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said it was in the national interest to have political stability as Ireland faces the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Martin’s decision to renew the confidence and supply arrangement with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael-led administration will ensure Ireland avoids a general election in the months around the UK’s planned EU exit.

Mr Coveney, deputy leader of Fine Gael, praised Fianna Fail for making a “mature” decision.

The historic pact between two parties founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s Civil War of the 1920s was struck in the wake of the inconclusive 2016 general election.

It lasted for three budgets.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/PA)

The renewed deal will last the duration of 2019.

The country will now go to the polls in early 2020.

Criticising the performance of the government, Mr Martin said his party had reached the decision reluctantly, but he said it was “unavoidable” given the concerns posed by Brexit.

He said business as usual in the Dail parliament was “not acceptable” in the circumstances and there was a need to put the “national interest ahead of party interests”.

“Fianna Fail is determined that the political chaos we see in London will not be allowed to spread to Ireland,” he said.

“We simply do not believe that the national interest could in any way be served by taking up to four months during next year to schedule and hold an election campaign and then form a government.

“With business and communities already fearful about the impact of Brexit and with Ireland manifestly not ready for many of the potential outcomes, how could it possibly be in the national interest to have extended political uncertainty next year?

“This is why Fianna Fail will extend a guarantee that government will be able to operate throughout 2019.

“This will allow the introduction of any emergency legislation and budgets, as well as the full end of year Budget and associated legislation.

“This will in turn allow the holding of an election early in the following year.”

Mr Coveney said the timing of the announcement was important.

“At a time when there is clearly a lot of uncertainty about Brexit and the British political system, the Irish political system has responded in the way that it should, to work together to ensure that we will have certainty for at least another year and probably more, to ensure that we can prepare the country for whatever may unfold in the context of our closest neighbour leaving the European Union at the end of March,” he said.

Mr Coveney said the move allowed the government to plan in the “medium term” on Brexit and other domestic concerns.

“From our perspective this is good news,” he said.

“I want to thank Fianna Fail for the maturity of the decision that has been made today.

“It is not easy for a large political party in opposition to essentially facilitate government and extend that facilitation beyond what was agreed a few years ago but I think Fianna Fail have recognised that it is in the interests of the country to provide the kind of certainty in Irish politics that is needed.

“At a time when we have a minority government here, I think we are showing that the Irish political system responds when the country needs that to happen and I want to thank Micheal Martin for his leadership and Fianna Fail for facilitating the confirmation of that extension that we expect will go well into 2020.”

Addressing the Dail, Mr Martin criticised the performance of Mr Varadkar’s administration, particularly in the areas of housing, health and tax policy.

“This decision has been reached reluctantly but it is unavoidable,” he added.

Mr Martin said one of his party’s key priorities was ensuring the country was prepared for a no-deal Brexit: “Of course we cannot guarantee that the government will not undermine itself and stumble out of office, but it is receiving a guarantee of stability unprecedented for a minority government in its situation.”

“If we could have a new government in days then we would be able to act differently.

“But it will take a process of months and Ireland doesn’t have months which it can waste on putting politics before the people’s interests.”

Mr Martin said he would be meeting representative from fellow EU countries on Thursday.

“I will be telling them that Ireland will be a stable and reliable partner for them in the months ahead,” he said.

“The contagion of political chaos will not spread here from London.

“There is a clear majority in Dail Eireann which will ensure stability and the national interest will be put first.”

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