TDs complain discussions 'are a waste of time' as split in Ross's Alliance emerges
Taoiseach Enda Kenny's talks with Independent TDs are in severe danger of collapse unless he dramatically changes his tactic of long, drawn-out discussions.
A number of TDs have warned they do not want to be "lured" into protracted talks that will lead to nothing.
With Fine Gael's hopes of striking a deal teetering on the brink, the first sign of a split within one of the main groups of Independents was confirmed last night.
Waterford TD John Halligan told the Irish Independent he might not necessarily vote with Shane Ross's Independent Alliance if it decides to go into government.
However, several Independent TDs warned the process won't even get that far.
A number of TDs who attended Fine Gael's eight-hour roundtable meeting on housing last Thursday have described it as "badly managed".
Mr Halligan went so far as to say it was "a waste of time".
"You could see people bored out of their heads. I'm not going to commit myself to that and find I get nothing at the end."
Fine Gael has asked all 15 Independent TDs and the Green Party to return to Government Buildings today for talks on issues such as rural Ireland and elements of the health service.
It is believed Mr Kenny's team are keen to continue talks tomorrow and Thursday.
"It's getting to a point where this is very serious and people need to be committed," said a senior party source.
However, the acting Taoiseach is expected to be told that a significant number of the Independents are not prepared to pledge that amount of time, unless Fine Gael bring forward solid policy proposals - and Mr Kenny makes contact with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
"They know where we stand on issues anyway so they should draw up a programme for government and then we can talk about that," said one Independent TD.
Speaking at the Grand National in Fairyhouse yesterday, Mr Kenny called on TDs not to "sit on the sidelines".
He said he was "working very hard" on forming a new government "in the shortest time possible".
"I do think it's important that all of those who are elected, wherever they come from, that they have to understand that they have a mandate and a responsibility not to just sit on the sidelines," he said.
But speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Halligan was deeply critical of Fine Gael's approach, saying it was too focused on its manifesto which was rejected by voters.
"I'm not going to be dragged through this day after day with no end," he said, adding that Fine Gael had tabled 86 points for discussion "that would have us talking into next year".
The Independent Alliance brought financial, health and legal advisors to the meeting but Mr Halligan said: "We may as well have brought them to Timbuktu for a holiday."
He said he is not afraid to go into government if Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil bring forward "a pragmatic plan" but "right now I'm not seeing anything".
"I'm in a seriously difficult position at present. I want to help form a stable government. It may not be possible with my ideology."
He also became the first member of the Alliance to admit the group of six TDs will not necessarily vote as a block for a new Taoiseach.
"If it reaches the stage where the Independent Alliance decided to row in with a government and I didn't, I wouldn't be devastated," he said.
Mr Ross has always maintained the Alliance would vote as a block in relation to the election of a Taoiseach. And Independent TD for Tipperary Mattie McGrath, who is part of the Rural Five group, said unless big progress is made by Thursday he has "a lot of other things to be doing".
"We're not going to be the piggy in the sandwich," he said.
Mr McGrath told the Irish Independent that he needs Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to start engaging.
"Whoever gets the prize of Taoiseach we need to be assured that the others won't run off the pitch with the ball," he said.