Wednesday 13 December 2017

Civil War hang-ups bring election closer

Shaky FG-FF talks collapse into a bitter war of words

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pictured addressing media at Leinster House. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin pictured addressing media at Leinster House. Photo: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

A new civil war has opened up between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil as talks aimed at forming a government collapsed into a bitter argument.

The prospect of a second election moved a step closer last night as a Grand Coalition was firmly rejected by Micheál Martin during a tense 10-minute meeting with Enda Kenny.

Mr Martin suggested that Mr Kenny had effectively threatened that he had to accept a proposal for an "equal partnership government" or face going back on the campaign trail.

However, this was described as "nonsense" by Fine Gael and the acting Taoiseach claimed Mr Martin's decision to walk away from the coalition talks "was driven by narrow party interests rather than the national interest".

READ MORE: Fine Gael's political poker playing is a stunt House of Cards' Frank Underwood would be proud of 

The Irish Independent understands Fine Gael is now set to dispatch a number of ministers around the country over the weekend to meet Independent deputies in an attempt to secure support for a minority government.

It followed a day of drama which saw all of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's TDs gather in Leinster House for separate but simultaneous meetings.

Fine Gael deputies unanimously backed a motion saying Mr Kenny was correct to offer Fianna Fáil a partnership agreement, although a small few expressed some concern about the idea of a rotating Taoiseach.

READ MORE: ‘Written deal with FF needed for minority government’ – Leo Varadkar 

The overwhelming view of the Fianna Fáil meeting was that a coalition should be rejected.

Only John McGuinness, Billy Kelleher, Fiona O'Loughlin, and Robert Troy gave any credence to the idea.

Several speakers suggested that Fine Gael's offer was nothing more than a ploy to get Independents on side ahead of a bid to form a minority government.

At one point the meeting heard a claim that Fine Gael had already "promised a State car" to a rural Independent.

The two party leaders then met but agreed to go their separate ways almost immediately after Mr Martin outlined his party's stance.

The development now hands serious bargaining power back to the 15 Independents who have engaged in talks with the two parties.

Members of the Independent Alliance and Rural Five last night told the Irish Independent they are still interested in forming a government if the terms are right.

As relations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil hit an all-time low, Mr Martin claimed that the acting Taoiseach had wrongly told him he had spoken to Independents about a partnership in advance of their meeting.

Mr Martin said he didn't believe the Fine Gael offer was "sincerely put" and there was an "element of choreography about it".

"But that's par for the course in terms of how the Taoiseach does his business."

He went on to claim that he was told at their initial meeting that "minority government was being taken off the table".

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney furiously denied this, saying Mr Kenny had "made it quiet clear" that "his preference" was a partnership "because of stability".

"In the absence of that being possible, of course Fine Gael now has to look at how a minority government can function and how we can put it together."

The minister added that claims of choreography were Mr Martin "trying to make excuses".

Both parties will embark on a campaign to win over Independents who were supplied with policy documents earlier this week.

A number of Independents told the Irish Independent last night they open to engaging with both parties - but do not want any more long meetings.

Fine Gael is the favoured choice of the majority of Independents but this is based mainly on numbers rather than a comparison of the policy documents.

The Independents had been given until Tuesday to give feedback on those documents but it is now expected contacts will be ramped up over the weekend.

The Dáil is due to meet again next Thursday to make a third attempt at electing a Taoiseach but sources say a definitive result seems unlikely.

Irish Independent

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