Varadkar rejects claim election ‘choreographed’ around Brexit

Coveney criticises Sinn Féin for promoting ‘divisive’ class politics

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has strongly rejected a suggestion by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that he deliberately timed the general election to coincide with Brexit in order to maximize the Fine Gael vote.

Mr Martin insisted Brexit was not coming up as an issue on the campaign trail and he accused Fine Gael of a "desperate" bid to make the issue centre stage in a campaign dominated by housing and health.

"When you think about this, he [Mr Varadkar] had planned this election and the date a way back," Mr Martin said. "It's very clear now that it was all choreographed and he thought he would get re-elected on the wave of Brexit Day. "

But Mr Varadkar strongly rejected Mr Martin's comments when he addressed some 250 Fine Gael supporters at a rally in Ballincollig attended by the party's ten candidates seeking election in the five Cork constituencies on Friday.


“Of course, we know that is not true. The person who decided the longevity of this Dáil and this Government, that it would be linked to Brexit and would be linked to events in another country, was Micheál Martin himself,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The reason why the election is happening now in the winter, at the end of February, is not because it is the best time for any political party, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or anyone else, it is because it is the best time for the country.”

He said: "This is the window of opportunity to elect a new Government so we can have it in place for the European Council meeting at the end of March when we sign off on the negotiating guidelines for the new trade agreement with the UK.

“We need to ensure we have that Government in place to negotiate that new crucial agreement with the UK and we don’t end up having a caretaker Government or an election during the summer or autumn during that period.”

Mr Varadkar said 200,000 people worked in jobs that were dependent on securing tariff free trade with the UK and those people should trust Fine Gael to continue its good work when negotiating for Ireland.

"That's why we are saying to the Irish people stick with the tried and trusted team of Simon Coveney, Leo Varadkar and Helen McEntee- we have brought Ireland this far and we can bring Ireland the rest of the distance on Brexit."

Opening the rally in Cork, Tánaiste Simon Coveney accused Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin of populist politics and claimed the two parties would undermine all the good work done by Fine Gael.

Mr Coveney also accused Sinn Féin of trying to introduce an element of division into Irish society and Irish politics by its focus on class and economic status which was something Fine Gael would always challenge.

“When I hear Sinn Féin spokespeople talk about ‘the people they represent’, coming from certain addresses and certain walks of life, that frightens me because is a divisive politics based on representing only one sector.

“We are driven by a value system in Fine Gael that we must represent everybody unlike some other parties in this campaign who want to create a division in Irish society based on class and income and addresses.

“That is never an approach we will take to politics and we will challenge and face down other parties who want to try and inject that kind of division into Irish society and politics and I hope everyone here is with me in those efforts.”

Regarding party pledges, Mr Coveney said: “We are not a party that builds its popularity on the basis of protest or of populist messaging or promises that we know are not deliverable - we are a party that levels with people and when we can’t afford to spend, we don’t.

“And when we can, we try and spend the people’s money in a way that will improve the quality of life but also ensure that we create a sustainable future where people don’t have to worry about a boom and bust cycle.”

Fianna Fáil had a record in government to be ashamed of while Sinn Féin was being dishonest in proposing to spend €22 billion of public monies when they knew the Department of Finance and others were saying Ireland should be spending less than half of that, he continued.

“Imagine how much damage those two parties together could do if they joined forces in government - one has wrecked the country in terms of economic management and the other proposes to do the same with crazy policies.”

Mr Coveney added that from canvassing around the country, he had never come across a general election that was so volatile and he estimated that up to 30 per cent of voters were still undecided and still to be won over the next week.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times