Sunday 26 May 2019

Independents warn Fine Gael they will not rush deal

Mattie McGrath, Michael Harty, Denis Naughten of Rural Alliance and Senator Victor Boyhan arrive for talks with FG. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mattie McGrath, Michael Harty, Denis Naughten of Rural Alliance and Senator Victor Boyhan arrive for talks with FG. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Finian McGrath and Shane Ross of Independent Alliance. Photo: Arthur Carron

John Downing and David Kearns

Independent TDs have warned Fine Gael "there is no deadline" to conclude a deal on government formation this week.

Talks on the final phase of government formation with up to 11 Independent TDs will continue today and Fine Gael still hope a deal can be done in time to re-elect Enda Kenny Taoiseach by Thursday.

But Independent Alliance TD Michael Fitzmaurice warned that a lot of important work lay ahead and they would not be rushed into any agreement.

"We will work 12 hours a day if necessary to get this done and get things right. But as far as I am concerned there is no deadline here," he said.

But Fine Gael sources said they were pleased with the progress and hoped to have a draft Programme for Government agreed by later tomorrow, which could allow Mr Kenny be elected Taoiseach on Thursday.

Talks at Government Buildings began at 10am yesterday with six TDs from the Independent Alliance and continued until 5.45pm. It is understood they discussed agriculture, rural affairs, mortgage arrears, health, mental health and disability.

The six Independent Alliance TDs are Shane Ross, Michael Fitzmaurice, John Halligan, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran, Seán Canney and Finian McGrath.

They were joined by mortgage campaigner David Hall for discussions on resolving mortgage arrears, while another session this morning will deal with crime, justice, and political reforms, including a code for State appointments.

Later, a three-hour session involving rural Independents - Denis Naughten, Michael Collins, Noel Grealish, Mattie McGrath and Dr Michael Harty - dealt with housing and agriculture. Fine Gael and the two groups hope to continue lengthy sessions again today.

Fine Gael is trying to include all 11 Independents in its minority coalition. But it needs a minimum of six and Fianna Fáil's abstention to see Mr Kenny elected on Thursday.

Five of the six Independent Alliance TDs present at the close of talks yesterday said as a group they were "united on virtually every issue". Mr Ross added he was hopeful that John Halligan, who left yesterday's discussions early, would be with them "at the end".

The Waterford representative has said he will only enter government if a deal is struck on cardiac care for the South East at Waterford University Hospital. Fine Gael said it is trying to facilitate Mr Halligan but is limited in what it can promise as the issues must be judged on medical need.

Mr Halligan has said if he opts out, he would not stop his colleagues from supporting the proposed government. But the alliance say they will act as a group.

The Rural Alliance said they were eager to work for a deal to bring discussions to a speedy conclusion. Mr Naughten insisted there "could have been a government six weeks ago if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had not set down red lines".

Mr Naughten and the other rural deputies were joined by Senators Gerard Craughwell and Victor Boyhan as they met Fine Gael yesterday evening. Senator Craughwell had previously been associated with the Independent Alliance but announced at the weekend that he was severing his connections.

The most tricky part of the talks - the number of Cabinet seats to go to Independents - will not be decided until tomorrow. Speculation now centres on at least two full Cabinet seats and up to three junior ministries going to Independent deputies.

At least one of the junior posts is likely to be a so-called 'super junior' with the right to attend Cabinet but not vote on decisions. Fine Gael TDs and senators will meet today but, with promotions in the offing, this will be a quiet affair.

Irish Independent

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