Micheál Martin denies election fears behind reluctance to back no-confidence motion in Housing Minister

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has denied the real reason he will not back Sinn Féin's no-confidence motion in Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy is, that doing so, would cause a snap general election that could damage his own party.

Mr Martin rejected the claim as he twice avoided answering whether he believes Mr Murphy should step down voluntarily to ensure Fianna Fáil is not forced to scrap the confidence and supply deal.

Speaking during the first day of Fianna Fáil's two-day pre-Dáil think-in at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, north Dublin, Mr Martin said despite Sinn Féin's demand for Mr Murphy to be removed, his party will not support the motion.

Saying his party will not back the Sinn Féin no-confidence motion in the under-fire Housing Minister because "motions don't build houses", Mr Martin said the only way to address Ireland's housing crisis is to ensure budget and policy reforms.

However, asked if the real reason for his decision not to support the Sinn Féin motion is because it would cause the scrapping of the soon-to-run-out confidence and supply deal, and therefore cause a snap general election he might lose, Mr Martin insisted this has nothing to do with his position.

"My answer very strongly to you was that was said to be before 2016," Mr Martin said when his party's poll numbers compared to Fine Gael were put to him.

"I was told repeatedly, on every radio station, every interview I did, you'll come back in the low 30s, polls saying this and saying that, but we knew from our own work on the ground and from our own research where we were, and we came back.

"So polls don't phase me, I don't know how many more times I need to say that," Mr Martin said.

The Fianna Fáil leader said while he may want to remove the Housing Minister the reality is "motions don't build houses" and that Fianna Fáil is "not the executive" and as such "not the ministers, we're not the Government".

However, despite insisting his party is "holding them to account", he twice avoided answering a direct question on whether he wants Mr Murphy to step aside voluntarily in order to allow the issue to be resolved without causing a general election.

During the same press conference, Mr Martin separately said it was "shocking to see last week the Minister and Taoiseach trying to blame local authorities for their own shortcomings in the housing crisis".

Saying he wants to focus on the "substance not the theatre of politics", Mr Martin said addressing the issue will be crucial to the success or failure of next month's final confidence and supply deal budget.

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Irish Examiner Political Correspondent

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