Talks enter into farce as FG and FF row over text
Two party leaders, one text message and the race to form a government
Published 01/04/2016 | 02:30
Government formation talks reached unprecedented levels of farce when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil became embroiled in a row over the first formal contact between their two leaders.
Five weeks after the General Election result became known, Micheál Martin finally seized the initiative and phoned Enda Kenny just before 1pm yesterday. During a four-minute conversation, the pair agreed that they would continue negotiations separately with Independent TDs before holding their first set of talks after Wednesday's vote for Taoiseach.
Mr Martin also conveyed his party's anger over claims by Acting Jobs Minister Richard Bruton earlier this week that his party would not support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government under any circumstance.
This was the first known contact between the two leaders and comes 34 days after the election.
But after the phone call ended, Mr Kenny, "on reflection", decided to phone the Fianna Fáil leader back and propose to move the talks forward to this afternoon.
During a bizarre sequence of events that followed, Mr Kenny quickly texted Mr Martin proposing a Friday meeting after his phone calls went unanswered. Mr Martin, unbeknown to the acting Taoiseach, called an impromptu press conference during which he announced details of the now infamous phone call.
Fianna Fáil sources insist Mr Martin had not noticed the follow-up phone calls or text message sent by Mr Kenny.
Mr Martin told reporters his own party's discussions with Independents and smaller groups would take up until Monday or Tuesday - and his name would again be put forward for election as Taoiseach next Wednesday.
"After Wednesday, we have agreed that we will have discussions," Mr Martin said - but such talks depended on the outcome of the Dáil vote.
He said there was "no set agenda" for any Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil talks later next week - but he conceded water charges and the future of Irish Water would be among some "big issues".
Following the press conference, Mr Martin replied with a text that read: "As agreed we will talk again on Wednesday."
But as the day continued, a massive row erupted between the two parties.
Senior Fine Gael sources accused Fianna Fáil of "playing games", adding that Mr Martin felt "spooked" by the progress being made by the leading party in its talks with Independents.
Fianna Fáil rejected the criticism as "absolute nonsense" and accused Fine Gael of reaching "new depths of desperation".
Last night, as the row continued, Fine Gael insisted that Mr Kenny remains available to meet Mr Martin on Friday.
However, the Fianna Fáil leader is in Cork and now has no intention of meeting his counterpart until after Wednesday's vote. It now appears likely that there will be no government in place until May at the earliest as the prospect of a snap election increases.
The row over phone calls and text messages last night caused dismay among the Independent TDs involved in the negotiations. It's understood the majority of the 17 now believe weekend talks between the two leaders should take place.
Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae likened the antics to "child's play". Independent Alliance TD Seán Canney said he is glad the pair have spoken but added in relation to the spat: "That kind of stuff is not something that I even listen to because I think we've got to get above that."
FG's latest offerings to Independents
- "Enhanced primary care in every community", including funding for 80 additional clinics.
- Building GP capacity to respond to patients' needs through access to X-ray and ultrasound.
- Guaranteeing the future sustainability of rural GP practices, including a rise in the rural practice allowance.
- A pledge to increase the number of GP training places.
- Extend free GP care to under-18s.
- A plan to reduce the number of smokers in Ireland to less than 5pc of the population by 2025.
- The introduction of a health levy on sugar-sweetened drinks.
- A commitment to reduce overcrowding and a promise of capital investment in accident and emergency departments.
- Reforming the HSE and setting out a "detailed longer-term budget" for the health service.
- Ratification of the UN convention on the rights of people with disability within 12 months.
- Personalised budgets for people with disabilities who require services.
- Increased funding for housing adaptation schemes.
- Flexibility in social welfare entitlements to help people move into employment, while retaining a welfare safety net.
- A commitment to set up a citizens' assembly to examine the Eighth Amendment and Seanad reform.
- A series of referendums to be held, including the constitutional provision on the "woman's life within the home", removing the offence of blasphemy and Ireland's participation in the Unified Patent Court.