The auction begins - TDs to be offered deals in return for support
Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are preparing to offer a series of sweeteners to Independent TDs in a desperate bid to win their support ahead of next month's crucial vote for Taoiseach.
On April 6, TDs will once again vote for who they believe should be Taoiseach.
And with the Labour Party set to abstain this time around, Mr Martin is currently just seven votes behind Enda Kenny.
Senior figures in both parties will this week attempt to lure Independent deputies by offering a suite of proposals, some of which will be tailored to address the needs of specific constituencies.
Pledges are expected to be made on healthcare, housing and investment in rural towns and villages in the constituencies of Independents.
But the prospect of side deals being struck will leave both Mr Kenny and Mr Martin open to accusations of engaging in "auction politics" and the type of side deals offered in the past.
Although Fine Gael figures favour a 'grand coalition' with Fianna Fáil, there is a widespread acceptance that a minority government is the most likely outcome.
Both leaders will this week dispatch negotiating teams in a bid to shore up support ahead of the vote for Taoiseach.
And there is now an acceptance at senior level within both parties that specific deals will have to be made in order to secure votes.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiators are realistically eyeing up the votes of 15-17 Independent TDs, whose support could determine the next Taoiseach.
Fine Gael sources believe Independents may be persuaded to vote for Mr Kenny in return for certain commitments in areas such as mental health and housing, as well as a pledge to invest in rural areas.
Several ministers will be involved in the party's negotiations, including Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney and Simon Harris.
"It will be a case of us saying to people, 'Come join us in government' and you will have input into key areas and decisions," one Fine Gael source said last night.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil figures believe a number of Independents, including Finian McGrath, Maureen O'Sullivan and Mattie McGrath, will be interested in seeking concessions in areas as such as disability services, tackling crime and healthcare.
The party will this week dispatch a team of four TDs - Michael McGrath, Barry Cowen, Charlie McConalogue and Jim O'Callaghan - to hold talks with the Social Democrats and Independents.
The group will provide feedback to party leader Micheál Martin, who in turn will prepare a report for the parliamentary party.
Fianna Fáil sources said they expected discussions to surround "bread and butter issues" including rural Ireland, broadband, commercial rates, class sizes and third-level education.
If Mr Kenny wins the vote - which sources in both parties say is the most likely outcome - Fianna Fáil will offer its "tacit support" for a Fine Gael-led minority government.
"The loser must respect the victor. If the Dáil decides to favour Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin will respect that," said a Fianna Fáil strategist.
However, Fine Gael sources are highly wary of such a scenario for fear that Fianna Fáil would eventually collapse the government at a time of its choosing.
"We won't be bounced into a minority government if it is not going to be a stable one," said a senior party source.
The ongoing wrangling comes after a Red C opinion poll for the 'Sunday Business Post' showed that there would be no significant change in the standing of all three main parties if another election was held.
Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said that while forming a 'grand coalition' would be a "huge ask" for both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, another election was not desirable.
"The last thing the country needs right now is a general election. I think it would be a slap in the face to the electorate," he said.