There has been a major escalation in the row between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over election planning.

Fine Gael has issued a statement saying the issue has damaged the government formation talks process, and that Leo Varadkar will now contact Micheál Martin on the matter.

RTÉ News understands that the two will meet tomorrow, and that the meeting was arranged on Friday.

The statement said the Constitution and the law are clear on this and elections, by-elections and referenda must happen within defined timeframes once vacancies arise.

"There is no specific provision for public health emergencies (eg pandemics) envisaged in the Constitution or the law. Officials were only doing their jobs by scenario planning for all eventualities," it said.

The statement added that an attack on Fine Gael by two senior Fianna Fáil spokespeople arising from this work was unwarranted and has damaged the talks process.

"It is also rather ironic that one of the two had recently claimed falsely that both parties had agreed to hold a referendum within weeks of forming a Government, presumably during a pandemic," the statement said.

Earlier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney had confirmed that he had spoken to Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary to assure him that Fine Gael was not planning for a snap general election.

Speaking on RTÉ's The Week in Politics, Mr Coveney has said he believes a new government can be formed next month.

Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O'Brien said some progress had already been made in government formation talks but they need to intensify next week.

When those talks resume tomorrow, it will be exactly 100 days since voters elected TDs to the 33rd Dáil.


Read more: Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael edge closer to forming govt despite trust issues


Mr O'Brien described "leaks" about election planning as unhelpful but said his party would move on from this.

He said there is no reason why a draft programme for government cannot be completed within the next two to three weeks.

He added that primary legislation will have to be passed by a new government in the Dáil soon to deal with the Covid-19 crisis and to deliver financial supports for businesses.

And he said it was Fianna Fáil's intention not to increase taxes in the first year of any new government.

Mr Coveney said the Fine Gael commitment was not to increase income tax or the USC and he said the Finance Minister has pledged to fund pay restoration for public servants in October.

This evening the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said that any government needs to be formed "on the basis of mutual respect". 

Mr Harris said he hopes the talks process will intensify this week, saying that at this point most people just want to see politicians getting on with the job. 

He said contingency plans have to be in place across all government departments "for any scenario during a pandemic" and it would be "irresponsible not to do so". 

However, he said this "doesn't mean anyone is planning an election". 

Separately the Tánaiste told the programme the Government is examining if it can fix the anomaly that prevents women returning from maternity leave from claiming the Covid-19 payment.

However, he said it was checking if it has the legal tools to do this.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the matter can be fixed immediately if the political will is there.

Additional reporting Laura Hogan