Independents ready for tough talks about price for their support
Fine Gael hope to win the support of more than 10 Independent TDs to bring extra political and moral credibility to Enda Kenny's emerging minority coalition.
Talks with up to 14 likely Independent deputies are expected to intensify today, as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil inch closer to working out terms of support for a minority coalition.
Several Independents have insisted they will drive a hard bargain in return for their votes - but hopes are increasing that the bulk of them can be won over, and Mr Kenny can finally be elected Taoiseach early next week, possibly on Wednesday.
One source at Leinster House suggested that up to 11 Independents can be persuaded to support the Fine Gael-led minority coalition. Doubts centre on the likelihood of government support from Tipperary's Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae of Kerry, while his brother Michael may be more likely to back Mr Kenny.
All of the Independents likely to back the government remain extremely coy on the issue of Cabinet seats - with up to three full ministries and a number of junior posts likely to go their way.
The Independents insist their focus is on policy issues, and some also argue that greater influence over law-making now rests with the new committee chairpersons who will for the first time be elected by the 158 TDs in this Dáil.
"Most of us are hungry for change rather than interested in getting into government as such," Roscommon-Galway Independent TD Denis Naughten told the Irish Independent.
"I'm open-minded about government. If a good deal can be done, I'm going to consider it seriously," he added.
Mr Naughten, who is one of a grouping of five rural Independent TDs, said real power was finally about to be taken from ministers and given to TDs.
"In my time in politics I could count on one hand the number of times a minister took on board a suggestion from the opposition," he said.
Mr Naughten, who quit Fine Gael in 2011, has been a TD for almost 19 years and is among those tipped for a Cabinet seat.
Longford-Westmeath Independent Kevin 'Boxer' Moran said a wide range of detail has yet to be finalised and his Independent Alliance were prepared to work through the weekend with Fine Gael if necessary.
He said issues like crime, homelessness and health needed urgent attention, and it was "sad the country has been held to ransom over Irish Water".
Waterford deputy John Halligan, also of the Independent Alliance, said that any minority government must last a minimum of two years. He said everything depended on the contents of the Programme for Government and added he expected to meet with Leo Varadkar for talks on the future of University Hospital Waterford.
Already Mr Kenny can rely upon former Fine Gael minister and Tipperary Independent, Michael Lowry, and another Independent, Katherine Zappone.
That brings a total of 52 TDs, but Mr Kenny needs at least 58 deputies in case of Fianna Fáil abstaining in next week's vote for Taoiseach.