Niall O'Connor: Main parties must splash cash to woo Independents
Published 18/03/2016 | 02:30
In a quiet corner of Leinster House on Tuesday afternoon, patience was wearing thin. Suspicious of the media reports predicting a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition, one Independent TD felt he was becoming part of a game of political charades.
"I have one simple question," the deputy asked the minister.
"Are you playing us? Because if you are, I'm out of here."
While the minister's assurances were taken at face value, the exchange illustrates the colossal task facing both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil if they want to form a lasting, minority government.
If Independents can so readily threaten to walk away from a negotiating table at such an early stage, can their support for a budget or a Social Welfare Bill really be relied upon?
That is one of the many questions being pondered over by Enda Kenny and Michéal Martin as they consider their next move.
Three weeks to the day when politics was dealt a body blow that will be remembered for decades to come, the prospect of a stable government being formed is a long way off.
Returning to the negotiations table and the demands of Independents are really stacking up.
Each deputy has a shopping list, which appears to be getting longer as the days go by. A Minister for Rural Affairs, the re-opening of garda stations, the roll-out of high speed broadband and a deal to protect hundreds of post offices and rural GP services. And that's just the wish-list of Kerry's tag team of Michael and Danny Healy Rae.
Likewise, Dublin Bay North TD Finian McGrath admits he has a full list of demands in the areas of health, disability and cystic fibrosis. His colleague Shane Ross, McGrath explains, is "looking after" political reform and the judiciary.
And their fellow Independent Alliance comrade Michael Fitzmaurice has quite a long shopping list for rural dwellers, which includes a substantial package to assist homes prone to flooding.
The most unfortunate message emanating from the talks with the Independents is the apparent willingness of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to meet these demands.
The term 'auction politics' springs to mind.
But as the country enters Easter week, the mood within both the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil camps is upbeat.
Some Fine Gael TDs even believe Enda Kenny is undergoing a resurrection of his own after being crucified at the polls.
The real test for both parties will be in the days after April 6, when we should know which political leader will be given the first chance at forming a minority government. Maybe then we will find out whether the gap between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail can be closed on issues that really matter - USC, housing, mortgages and the elephant in the room that is Irish Water.