Independents furious as Kenny lines up side deal with Labour
Published 18/04/2016 | 02:30
Fine Gael has put a potential minority government deal with Independent TDs in jeopardy by back-channelling with the Labour Party.
And the Independents are furious at claims they have been "holding the nation to ransom" with demands that could cost billions of euro to satisfy.
A number of TDs involved in the government talks have told the Irish Independent they are considering their positions in light of the latest developments.
It comes as Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said he is prepared to put Enda Kenny and Joan Burton back into government - despite campaigning to bring down their Fine Gael-Labour coalition.
Asked repeatedly if he would allow a depleted version of the last government retain power, Mr Martin said: "We are willing to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government, which is Fine Gael plus others. It's not for us to dictate the composition of that government in terms of who forms part of the Cabinet."
However, the Labour Party is set to go to war with itself over the possibility of re-entering coalition with Fine Gael.
Under Labour Party rules, if it re-enters government it would remove the requirement for a leadership contest, meaning Joan Burton and deputy leader Alan Kelly could cling to their positions.
A number of senior party figures last night expressed serious doubt about whether they would be able to convince the party's membership to sign up to a fresh Fine Gael deal.
A source close to the Tánaiste said their plan was to allow the talks with Independents play out over the coming days and become active only as an "absolute last resort if a vacuum exists".
"Fine Gael are very anxious to talk to us because we would be much more reliable than Independents," said a senior source.
Former Wicklow TD Anne Ferris said the party shouldn't "countenance" the idea.
"The two things the party should agree on very, very quickly is that we should not go into government with Fine Gael and that the leadership has to be changed. I don't believe that with only seven TDs we will need a deputy leader - but I believe the current leadership, Joan Burton and Alan Kelly, will have to stand down and a new leader be selected," she said on RTÉ's 'This Week' programme.
Fine Gael's advances towards Labour have sparked fury among the various groups of Independents who believe it is part of a strategy to reduce their influence on the talks.
Privately, a number of TDs told the Irish Independent they see Enda Kenny's manoeuvring as an attempt to squeeze them out altogether.
"It would be difficult enough to support Kenny, never mind the two of them," said one TD, adding: "It would be just extraordinary if they lost more than 50 seats and are returned to government." Another said: "If Labour go in, let them off. This is their [Fine Gael's] exit strategy from us."
The Independents are also furious at leaks to the 'Sunday Independent' which revealed some of the 100 demands for public spending and 50 new tax incentives being sought by them. Fine Gael sources claimed the 'pork barrel' list of motorways, railway lines and other demands could cost €13bn.
The Rural Five TDs - Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Dr Michael Harty, Michael Collins and Noel Grealish - said in a statement that at "no stage" did they seek major capital developments.
"Instead we focused on key strategic national decisions which would have a direct impact on the survival of provincial towns and rural Ireland.
"In many cases the changes which we suggested had little or no financial impact but could, with a determined commitment by Government, make a real difference to the survival of many communities throughout the country," they said.
Michael Fitzmaurice of the Independent Alliance told the Irish Independent he has submitted a document on agriculture which fell within the existing budgets. "There was no €13bn or nothing near it in the discussions," he said.
Meanwhile Mr Martin has also rejected claims by Shane Ross that he "only needed to wait a week" and he would have got the backing of a substantial number of Independents for Taoiseach.
Mr Ross said some Independents wanted to vote for him because he was "urbane, convincing, able and honest" and others "preferred him for Taoiseach just because he was not Enda Kenny".
However, he said that Mr Martin failed to attend key meetings with Independents and didn't appear to have the appetite for power.
In response Mr Martin said: "Shane Ross would be the first to admit that our policy platform was actually the strongest."
He said it was "ridiculous" to suggest he needed to be at every meeting.
"The Independents have to say something to justify their position. We made every effort to put forward an alternative platform to the Independents."