Sunday 18 February 2018

Kenny and Martin failing to gain any extra backing

Independents to hold FG and FF to ransom for a higher price

Kevin Doyle and Philip Ryan

The leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are unlikely to secure the backing of any Independent TDs before this Thursday's vote for Taoiseach.

Both parties are resigned to the idea that Independents want to "hold us to ransom" and there won't be time to hammer out any concrete deal, despite days of phone calls and meetings.

Several Independents have told the Irish Independent they have no intention of losing the upper hand in negotiations by picking a side yet.

They intend to play Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin off each other in an effort to extract the highest price for their support.

Sources in the two main parties say that while initial contacts have been useful, they are not amounting to much.

Similarly, the Social Democrats and the Green Party are edging away from supporting an individual, believing the real talks won't begin until next week.

"The Socialist Democrats have said that this should be about policies than [totting] up the numbers," joint party leader Roisin Shortall told Newstalk Breakfast.

"The pitch that Social Democrats made was to set out a manifesto - we said very clearly that we will be campaigning on our policies".

"There is a unique opportunity in these weeks to do something really effective in reforming government. The Social Democrats are making proposals to other parties and Independents."

"Given the numbers that are there, I find it very hard to see a government without one of the main parties," she said this morning.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is due to attend an EU summit in Brussels today, meaning he will lose even more time.

Micheál Martin is due to meet members of the Independent Alliance today but can expect to be given a tough time.

Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice has spent the weekend compiling a policy document on agriculture that he wants taken into consideration by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

"The bottom line is what's written on paper, what's guaranteed and what's sorted," he said, adding that lots of offers were flying around, but they were "pointless" at this stage. "It's like offering a holiday but not having a plane to go on," he said.

He also criticised Fianna Fáil in relation to water charges, saying that they seem to have forgotten large sections of homeowners.

"Micheál Martin has said nobody will pay for water. There are 450,000 people on group water schemes and 190,000 with their own wells. Is he going to make sure he sticks by those words?" he said.

"He has forgotten about the big elephant coming behind him in the room."

Dublin TD Finian McGrath said there was "absolutely no way I'm voting for anybody this Thursday".

"Even talking to Enda Kenny you wonder, is this the right guy to be meeting with?'

"You were looking at him thinking, that's a man in trouble. He's under pressure," he said, echoing words by his colleague Shane Ross in a Sunday Independent column yesterday.

Mr McGrath said he would need guarantees on investment in the disability sector and the health services before giving his support to either man.

He noted that 30 beds had been assigned to help the overcrowding situation in Beaumont Hospital when 80 would be needed for a real impact.

"That's the nitty-gritty stuff we're talking about," he said.

Donegal's Thomas Pringle said he would not be supporting any deal that would allow Enda Kenny remain as Taoiseach.

He also confirmed that he had turned down an invitation to join the Independent Alliance.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said yesterday he still favoured a deal with Independents and smaller parties over a coalition with Fianna Fáil.

He said he would have "enormous difficulty" doing business with Mr Martin's party and it would be "a very big deal" for Fine Gael to go back on their pre-election promise not to.

"It's certainly not my favoured option," he said, adding: "We're very clear we don't want to cling to power."

There is a growing acceptance in Fianna Fáil that some arrangement with Fine Gael will be needed, but sources insisted they will not support a Fine Gael government led by Enda Kenny, which will put huge pressure on the Taoiseach to consider his position in the coming weeks.

A source, who is close to Micheál Martin, insisted "too much water has gone under the bridge with Enda Kenny" for Fianna Fáil to consider forming a government with him in charge.

"The election result showed people were not satisfied with how the country was going and Kenny was Taoiseach at the time. It's up to Fine Gael what they do with that," the source said.

However, there is a softening at senior levels of Fianna Fáil on the idea of supporting a Fine Gael government headed by another leader.

Irish Independent

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