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Martin says Government committing to going ‘full term’ amid election speculation

Fianna Fail election candidate Barry Andrews (left) and Tanaiste Micheal Martin at the Royal Dublin Society during the count for the European elections. Picture date: Monday June 10, 2024.
Fianna Fail election candidate Barry Andrews (left) and Tanaiste Micheal Martin at the Royal Dublin Society during the count for the European elections. Picture date: Monday June 10, 2024.

Ireland’s deputy premier has insisted the leaders of the coalition government remain committed to serving a full term as he dismissed speculation over an early general election.

Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the Government would stay focused on delivery, citing the autumn budget as its main priority, despite renewed focus on the prospect of an earlier-than-expected polling day.

Vote counting in the local and European elections resumed in Ireland on Monday. In Limerick, a count for Ireland’s first directly elected mayor began on Monday.

While it could still take days to finish counting every vote across the country, the political ramifications of the results so far have raised major questions for the leaders of the main parties.

The Government coalition partners – Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Greens – are facing the potentially appealing option of going for an early general election after performing better than many pollsters had predicted.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein, Ireland’s main opposition party, has already announced an internal review after a poor performance in the elections. Leader Mary Lou McDonald apologised for the results.

Some opinion polls last year saw Sinn Fein riding high on 30%-plus support among the electorate, but the party attracted only 12% of first preference votes in Friday’s local government elections.

European and local elections
Taoiseach Simon Harris is resisting mounting pressure to call a general election (Damien Storan/PA)

While that was still up on its showing in the last local council poll in 2019, the result is well short of what the party had hoped for.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Simon Harris has insisted he has no plans to bring forward the timetable for an election from spring 2025 but that is unlikely to quell calls from some party supporters to go earlier.

Fianna Fail leader Mr Martin also moved to dampen speculation around an early election as he arrived at the RDS count centre in Dublin on Monday.

Asked if there were any circumstances in which he would support bringing the date forward into this year, he said: “We’ve agreed to go the full term and the Taoiseach and I and Eamon Ryan (Green Party leader) have agreed that.”

European and local elections
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald is facing questions over her leadership of the party (Damien Storan/PA)

Earlier, Fianna Fail Finance Minister Michael McGrath said it was important for Ireland to not only have a budget before the next general election but also pass the legislation to enact it.

He suggested that timetable would work against holding an earlier poll.

His party leader also highlighted the autumn budget as the Government’s top priority, rather than an election.

“We’re going to stay focused,” Mr Martin told reporters in Dublin.

“Local elections are different to general elections and Europeans are too, so our focus will be on the budget, preparing the financial framework for that, that is going to be very challenging, lots of pressure on expenditure.”

Ireland cabinet meeting
Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton said the electorate wanted ‘stability’ (Brian Lawless/PA).

Mr Martin also warned of the dangers of making presumptions on opinion poll data, particularly online-based polls, given that most had predicted a very different set of results emerging from the local and European elections.

“I think there has been too much of that in Irish politics and the Irish political narrative,” he said.

Minister for Higher Education Patrick O’Donovan believes his party will pick up a seat in Ireland South and two seats in the Midlands-North-West constituency as well as one in Dublin.

Asked about suggestions of an early general election, he said: “I’m a fan of getting on with the work that the government needs to do, and I’m a fan of getting on with the work that people expect us to do.

“The people that were writing this off last week, these so-called commentators, a lot of them are were knocking about Leinster House when I was in the pram, they don’t have their finger on the pulse and they’re filling column inches and radio interviews with fiction.

“If any of them had come outside the M50 and maybe spent the day canvassing in Ballylanders or in Ballyhahill they would have known that the Fine Gael vote was a lot stronger than what they were predicting it to be.”

Elsewhere on Monday, Fine Gael minister of state and Government chief whip Hildegarde Naughton said the public was craving “stability” as she insisted an early general election was not on her party’s mind.

“That’s the strong message that we’re getting. So we really do have a lot of work to do in relation to this and elections are not on our mind,” she told RTE.

The TD for Galway West added: “We have a programme for government that we need to deliver, a huge amount has been delivered to date.

“But a lot of this legislation does take time to get over the line and we have such an amount of bills to get through right up to mid-July and also when we are back in the Dail in September. So we really need to finish off that work.”

Sinn Fein TD David Cullinane has said his party will be “match fit” for a general election whenever it is called.

He also insisted Ms McDonald remained the right person to lead the party into that poll.

Joint committee on health
Sinn Fein’s David Cullinane (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Cullinane said Sinn Fein was “humble” enough to acknowledge Friday’s elections had not delivered the results the party had wanted.

“We will learn, but also if this government or when this government calls the general election, we will meet them head-on on their failed records on so many issues, but, more importantly, on our positive vision on what we can do to deliver,” he told RTE.

He added: “People vote differently in a local and European election to a general election. We saw that before. It’s possible some of the Sinn Fein vote or some of those people who want change stayed at home in the local election. And we know that some of the people who possibly intended to vote for Sinn Fein voted for independents.

Asked about why he felt Sinn Fein had not delivered on pre-election expectations, Mr Martin suggested it had failed to offer up substantive solutions to challenges facing the country, characterising the party’s policy offerings as “threadbare”.

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are set to battle it out for the most seats in the local government election as the counting reaches a conclusion, with both main coalition partners attracting around 23% of first preferences.

Counting in the European election began on Sunday and continued on Monday.

Dublin is the only one of the country’s three constituencies to reach the point of completing the first count.

After eight rounds of counting, Fianna Fail’s Barry Andrews and Fine Gael’s Regina Doherty remain on course to secure two of the four seats in the constituency.

Sinn Fein’s Lynn Boylan; Ciaran Cuffe from the Greens; Labour’s Aodhan O Riordain of Labour; Independent Ireland’s Niall Boylan; Clare Daly of Independents 4 Change; and Brid Smith of People Before Profit – Solidarity are the main contenders for the remaining two seats.

The outcome of the first count in Ireland South is expected on Monday afternoon, with Fine Gael’s Sean Kelly and Fianna Fail’s Billy Kelleher looking well placed.

Arriving at the count centre in Cork on Monday, Mr Kelleher said: “The public looked at others and rejected them resoundingly, both in terms of the very populist anti-migrant groupings on the right, but equally Sinn Fein as well in terms of their simplistic views to complex problems,”

The Midlands-North-West constituency is not anticipated to complete its first count until later in the day, as officials grapple with what is set to be a marathon process of whittling down the 27 candidates vying for five seats.

The third election last Friday saw voters in Limerick given the opportunity to select what will be Ireland’s first directly elected mayor.

Counting in the Limerick mayoral contest began on Monday, with tallies indicating that independent candidate John Moran is in the lead.