Enda Kenny's days as Fine Gael leader numbered as support swings behind Micheal Martin for Taoiseach
Published 27/03/2016 | 02:30
Enda Kenny is failing to win the support of Independent TDs to form a Fine Gael-led minority government and the momentum will this week swing decisively to Fianna Fail, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
The dramatic turnaround could see Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin win more votes than Mr Kenny for Taoiseach on April 6 - a result that will herald the end of Mr Kenny's leadership of Fine Gael.
At the moment Mr Kenny is guaranteed 51 votes and Mr Martin is certain of 43.
A Sunday Independent assessment of Independent TDs this weekend indicates that a clear majority are now in favour of supporting a Fianna Fail-led minority government.
The Independents have turned to Fianna Fail even though Mr Kenny has "thrown the kitchen sink" at them in recent weeks to secure their votes to back him.
The acting Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader has offered the Independents positions in Cabinet, as Ministers of State and as chairman of Oireachtas committees while Fianna Fail has concentrated on discussing policy issues.
But the Independents have still not committed to support him and, in a significant development this weekend, are now moving towards Fianna Fail.
Yesterday, the Independent TD, Noel Grealish, who last week met both Mr Kenny and Mr Martin, told the Sunday Independent: "I want to stress, under no circumstances have we closed the door on Fianna Fail. We would be willing to support Micheal Martin as Taoiseach if he addresses the crucial issues - homelessness, the health service and issues that effect rural Ireland."
Mr Grealish's comments are the first time an Independent TD has spoken publicly to indicate a preference for Taoiseach.
He added: "I want to emphasise that the only reason we went to meet Fine Gael and Enda Kenny is that Fine Gael is the largest party. We made it quite clear at our meeting with him that we are not committing to supporting him."
Mr Martin last week held a secret two-hour meeting with five Independents and a further meeting is planned this week. The meeting at Fianna Fail's offices in Leinster House took place immediately after Mr Kenny had a high profile seven-hour meeting with the Independents and the Greens.
The Independents who met with Mr Martin and Fianna Fail TDs, Barry Cowen and Jim O'Callaghan, are Mr Grealish, Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins and Dr Michael Harty.
The Sunday Independent can also reveal that in his meeting with Independents, Mr Kenny was asked if Fine Gael would support a Fianna Fail-led minority government but is said to have "fudged" this issue.
However, there is awareness in Fine Gael that Mr Kenny is "struggling" to secure the backing of the Independents and smaller parties.
After a month of talks, Mr Kenny has still "well short" of the backing he needs to form a Fine Gael-led minority government, according to sources at the talks.
Should Mr Kenny fail to win over Independents before the vote for Taoiseach on April 6 pressure will increase on him to step down as Fine Gael leader. "Basically, Enda Kenny has about a fortnight to save his political career," a Fine Gael source said. "He asked for time to form a government.
"He has been given that - six weeks. But he has to get the Independents over the line. At this stage, I have serious doubts that he is going to do that."
Mr Kenny has already said that he will not step down if he fails to win additional support on April 6 and has said that he will continue to try to form a government.
But in Fine Gael this weekend there is a strong view that Mr Kenny will be "urged" to step down as Fine Gael leader but continue as acting Taoiseach to allow for the election of a new leader, if he fails to win at least 60 votes on April 6.
This weekend several Independent TDs involved in government formation negotiations said that a Fianna Fail-minority government is the most favoured.
"A big issue in all of this for us is stability," one Independent said.
"Some of us believe a Fianna Fail-led minority government would last longer than a Fine Gael-led one - maybe two to three years - because Fine Gael would need a year or two to bed in their new leader."
The question remains whether Fine Gael would be prepared to back a Fianna Fail-led minority government.
In what has been described as his most significant speech this Easter, Mr Kenny last week appealed for politicians to work together in the national interest.
Yesterday, a senior Fianna Fail source told the Sunday Independent: "In the event that we are in a position to form a Fianna Fail-led minority government, we would then, of course, appeal to Fine Gael's sense of the national interest, to support such a government."