Friday 30 September 2016

How Micheal Martin won the sweetest deal in Fianna Fail history

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Published 05/05/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil negotiator Barry Cowen, researcher Kevin Dillon, negotiators Michael McGrath, Charlie McConalogue, and Jim O'Callaghan Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil negotiator Barry Cowen, researcher Kevin Dillon, negotiators Michael McGrath, Charlie McConalogue, and Jim O'Callaghan Photo: Tom Burke

Fianna Fáil is claiming a major victory over Enda Kenny after a series of their manifesto promises were transposed directly into the deal on a minority government.

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Micheál Martin's TDs believe they are the most powerful Opposition party ever and have delivered "massive value" for their votes.

The party's negotiating team went into the so-called 'Trinity Talks' with a number of key policy priorities and walked away with agreement on practically all of them.

Their finance spokesman Michael McGrath told the Irish Independent: "Never again will an Opposition party have as much influence as Fianna Fáil will in the current Dáil."

It comes as Fine Gael is on the verge of making more significant concessions to Independent TDs in order to get their backing for Mr Kenny.

The acting Taoiseach has indicated a deal could be concluded this week but controversial topics such as the Eighth Amendment were still to be discussed last night.

Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin after the 1916 Arbour Hill Commemoration ceremony and requiem mass REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin after the 1916 Arbour Hill Commemoration ceremony and requiem mass REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Read more: Who got the most from FG-FF deal?

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said he believes a vote for Taoiseach can take place today.

He added that a Government could be in place by the weekend.

Independent TDs are to meet with the Fine Gael negotion team today after long talks ended last night.

They will be presented with a draft programme for Government today in that meeting.

Minister Frances Fitzgerald agreed a that a deal could be done today if Independents sign up to it.

"It is however up to Enda Kenny when a Cabinet is formed," she added.

The Irish Independent understands that Irish Rail CEO David Franks was also called to Government Buildings this week to brief TDs on the possibility of extending the Western Rail Corridor which runs from Ennis to Athenry. And definitive commitments have been sought in areas such as health, agriculture, judicial appointments and housing.

In the Dáil yesterday, Mr Kenny said "a number of important matters" were still on the table and talks "are not taking place in a sense of virtual reality".

Last night, after more than 10 hours, the talks ended with no agreement. While a senior Fine Gael negotiator said "huge progress" had been made, the prospect of Mr Kenny being re-elected as Taoiseach today is now unlikely.

Several sources from all sides of the talks said a deal is in sight - but insisted there are a number of issues still to be agreed.

Independent TDs have sought over 100 amendments to a de-facto programme for government, according to a number of figures involved in the process.

It is now possible Mr Kenny will be elected Taoiseach on Friday, with Fianna Fáil opting to abstain. But the prospect of a Tuesday vote is also on the table.

Read more: Q&A: The deal for Government

Meanwhile outside the chamber, Fianna Fáil were boasting that the agreement reached with Fine Gael on a minority government was significantly weighted in their favour.

Debate

Although Mr Martin's party were originally concerned about tying themselves into a written agreement with Fine Gael, strategists say they decided to insist on "specific commitments" in certain areas.

These included water, rent supplement, guidance counsellors, post-graduate supports, mortgage relief, variable interest rates and the fallout from vulture funds taking over loans.

"There was a debate around the presentation of the paper but the origins of the paper were substantially policy that Fianna Fáil put on the table," said Mr McGrath. "The paper is even structured in line with the policies in our manifesto.

"Fine Gael was very sensitive that the document would be seen as the price being charged by Fianna Fáil. It's very much drawn from the Fianna Fáil manifesto."

A meeting of Fine Gael TDs endorsed the 'confidence and supply' arrangement earlier this week without much disquiet - although one minister said afterwards everybody accepted the "Realpolitik" of the situation.

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald criticised the agreement, saying the most "alarming" feature was the lack of detail about health policies.

However, the strongest criticism came from Labour.

Party chairman Willie Penrose said: "Narrow political self-interest has trumped fair play and sound policy, with compliant taxpayers squeezed in the middle in the deal hatched between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael."

Irish Independent

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