Wednesday 24 January 2018

FG and FF know the answer but neither will ask the question

A rejuvenated Fine Gael led by either Leo Varadkar or Frances Fitzgerald would allow the party to change the narrative. Photo: Tom Burke
A rejuvenated Fine Gael led by either Leo Varadkar or Frances Fitzgerald would allow the party to change the narrative. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

After all the jigs and reels of the past 10 days, we are no closer to anything. The Independents have had their egos stroked by Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin and largely came away uninspired.

They see one as a dead man walking whom even his own TDs don't want as Taoiseach, so there's no real reason why they should back him.

And the other is viewed as a born-again reformist who is a little bit too slick. The public might have succumbed to Micheál's charm but the Independents want more than a bit of feel-good factor.

The swings and roundabouts will continue over the coming days as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil try to steal a march on each other while being stuck in the election mud.

At the same time, there are two realities in Irish politics that everyone in Leinster House is trying to ignore.

The first is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will have to sit down and talk.

The fact they are trying to put it on the long finger is essentially optics because you won't find a single TD in either party who says it's not going to happen.

The second inevitability is that Enda Kenny's days as leader of Fine Gael are numbered.

When Independent TDs come away laughing at the desperate tone of your flirtations, it's over.

Fine Gael TDs are waiting in the long grass to see how the next few weeks play out, but Mr Kenny cannot and will not survive in the long-term.

Now a growing number of Fianna Fáil sources say they would find it much easier to work with their Civil War rivals if the Mayo man was no longer commander-in-chief.

That's a strange request. It's the bottle of really expensive plonk that has been sitting on the hard to reach shelf for a very long time - but when you take it down there's a stale taste.

Fianna Fáil would be able to claim to have ousted a Taoiseach, which in historical terms is significant - but what would they really gain from it?

Mr Kenny is holding Fine Gael back right now. Having rebuilt the party after the 2002 massacre, he is now an obstacle to a much-needed reinvention.

In his place, Mr Martin would most likely find himself battling with a rejuvenated party led by Leo Varadkar or Frances Fitzgerald. It would allow Fine Gael to change the narrative from election defeat to one about their first gay or first female leader.

The fact that no Independents are coming out to back either Mr Martin or Mr Kenny is not surprising - but the pace of the talks is worrying.

The sooner the two big parties accept that there won't be a government held up by non-party TDs and smaller groups the better.

Stop the merry-go-round for a second and consider that even if Mr Kenny convinced all 23 Independents in the new Dáil to vote for him, along with the Social Democrats and the Green Party, he would arrive at 78 seats - one short of a coalition. Mr Martin would hit only the 72 mark.

So it all comes down to two simple questions: When will Fianna Fáil decide it's time to talk to Fine Gael?

And will it be Mr Kenny that Mr Martin meets when that happens?

Until that happens and somebody makes a real move, we will continue to watch Independents strolling up Kildare Street with what Joan Burton called their shopping trolleys of demands.

Irish Independent

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