Tuesday 28 March 2017

New Government: Here's five things to look out for in next 48 hours

Minister of State for Training and Skills: John Halligan
Minister of State for Training and Skills: John Halligan
Independent Mattie McGrath at Leinster House yesterday. Photo: Collins Photo Agency
Frances Fitzgerald. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

We may be in the midst of two days that will shape how the country is run for years – or as the pessimists would have it - months to come. Here are five things to watch out for

1. White smoke from Fine Gael’s minority government talks with Independent TDs

Fine Gael have been talking to Independents all week – on top of the 100 plus hours of negotiations that took place before the deal with Fianna Fáil was done. It’s now 68 days since the election. Friday will mark exactly ten weeks of what feels like a never ending process. To use the papal metaphor – the most recent election at the Vatican took two weeks in 2013 before there was white smoke from the Sistine Chapel and Pope Francis was selected. Although to be fair to our politicians it took more than two years to elect one pope in the 13th Century. Fine Gael would like to seal the deal with at least six Independents today to allow for a Dáil vote for Taoiseach tomorrow.


2. Deals with Independents may be revealed

12 NEWS CC John Halligan .jpg  

Will John Halligan get a commitment from Fine Gael on increased cardiac care for Waterford University Hospital? Will there be rules on wind turbine set-back distances or concessions on turf cutters’ rights that Michael Fitzmaurice would like to see? How about additional support for rural healthcare and GPs as campaigned for by Dr Michael Harty? The various Independents argue that their local demands have relevance elsewhere in the country. They will want to extract some commitments in return for backing Enda Kenny to be re-elected Taoiseach. The next 48 hours may reveal exactly what those commitments are as Fine Gael has promised to publish all deals with Independents.


3. Will the Independents maintain a united front?


There are six TDs in the Independent Alliance and another group of five rural deputies engaged in talks with Fine Gael. Waterford’s John Halligan has said that the cardiac care issue in the south east is a deal breaker for him but other members of the Alliance may still choose to back a minority government. Similarly there’s no guarantee that the rural TDs – Denis Naughton, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Dr Michael Harty and Noel Grealish – will vote as a block. Throw into the mix the potentially divisive issue of who gets Cabinet posts and the Independents could become very independent again.


4. A re-elected Taoiseach and new Cabinet


It’s still a big ask for Fine Gael’s negotiating team to wrap up talks with Independents today. But if they do - and they secure the minimum of six they need - tomorrow could see a Dáil vote on Taoiseach that would finally see Enda Kenny get over the line. After that we’re likely to see a new Cabinet selected fairly quickly. Acting justice minister Frances Fitzgerald has been tipped as the next Tánaiste while it’s been predicted that Michael Noonan and Leo Varadkar will remain in finance and health respectively. Independent Katherine Zappone is predicted to get a seat at the table given her early support for Mr Kenny while Michael Fitzmaurice may get agriculture or rural affairs if he does decide to back a minority government.


5. The business of the Dáil continues to rumble on

There may not be a government yet but TDs are still taking to the Dáil chamber for debates. Today sees statements on agriculture and climate change. Tomorrow will see acting finance minister address the Housing and Homelessness committee while the Dáil has scheduled debates on mental health and the Irish language. But don’t be surprised to see Fine Gael’s Noel Rock stand up in the chamber tomorrow to nominate Enda Kenny as Taoiseach for a fourth time since the election if a deal with Independents is done overnight.

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