Friday 9 December 2016

Varadkar and Coveney at odds over minority FF government

Kevin Doyle, John Downing and Sarah Collins

Published 15/03/2016 | 02:30

Leo Varadkar. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Fine Gael leadership pretenders Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney are split over whether the party would support a minority government lead by Fianna Fáil.

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Mr Varadar said yesterday there was "no way" his party would support a Fianna Fáil minority. But just hours later, Mr Coveney said he would not rule out any options.

The Health Minister and Agriculture Minister are members of Mr Kenny's negotiating team in talks on a new government.

The varying views are reflected across the party, but sources told the Irish Independent that Mr Varadkar's stance is that of the majority.

"Simon is pushing the official agreed public line, whereas Leo is calling it as it is," said a source close to the negotiations. "It's fair to say there is a very strong view that there is no way in hell we should support Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. Whatever about sharing power, we shouldn't let him off on his own."

It comes as separate ministerial sources admitted Mr Kenny has asked his backroom staff to study the Fianna Fáil manifesto for areas where the two parties can agree.

Sources say Fine Gael is at "sixes and sevens" about how to counteract Fianna Fáil who are doing most of the running on government talks. Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney, along with Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Junior Minister Simon Harris, are due to meet with Independent TDs this week while the Taoiseach Kenny is in Washington for the annual St Patrick's Day visit to the White House and Capitol Hill.

Asked if he would rule out a Fianna Fáil-led minority government, Mr Coveney said: "I'm not making any absolutes today. Fine Gael has said that we'd be willing to talk to all parties who are interested in being constructive in terms of putting a government together," he said.

Mistaken

"Fianna Fáil have made it clear that they don't want anything to do with a coalition with Fine Gael, so we're now focusing on putting a stable government together without them."

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan appeared to side with Mr Varadkar's approach, saying: "I don't see circumstances in which Fine Gael would support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government."

He added: "Fianna Fáil are under the mistaken belief that they have won the election, whereas in actual fact they had the second-worst performance in the history of their party.

"It's clear that the Fianna Fáil party is not serious about government. They continue to engage in game-playing. They continue to put narrow partisan party interests above the national interest."

Fianna Fáil has indicated that the mammoth task of negotiating with a total of 23 Independent TDs will focus on "themed issues".

"It will be a painstaking process and could take time," one Fianna Fáil source said.

But opinion is divided inside both parties on the value of these talks with Independents. Some deputies privately said it was a necessary process but unlikely to deliver tangible results. One of those who will be prominent in the talks, Kerry Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae, said he is not hopeful of a power-sharing deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Mr Healy-Rae said he had formed this pessimistic view after "lengthy discussions" with Mr Kenny, Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

"It looks very uncertain that any common ground can be formed between the two parties," the Kerry TD said.

"It now looks, following on from these discussions, that the only possibility of a government is a minority government."

Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance said his group want "serious commitments, costing and timelines" before any deal will be reached.

He told the Irish Independent that ministerial posts have not been discussed but the idea shouldn't be dismissed.

Irish Independent

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