Thursday 22 February 2018

Kenny moves to kill off Shane Ross's Independent Alliance

Kenny moves in for the kill on Ross, while Fianna Fail sets out its stall

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Jody Corcoran and Cormac Quinn

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has targeted the break-up of the Independent Alliance — whose figurehead leader Shane Ross recently described him as a “political corpse” — in a determined bid by Fine Gael to form a minority government.

Mr Kenny is understood to be prepared to appoint the Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice, the other titular leader of the alliance, as Minister for Agriculture in what appears to be a personalised attempt to isolate Mr Ross.

The Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae is also being strongly tipped this weekend to take a seat at Cabinet as Minister for Rural Affairs in a minority government that would emphasise the regeneration of rural Ireland.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal that the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, let it be known to Mr Kenny as far back as Friday, March 4, that there would be no ‘grand coalition’ between his party and Fine Gael.

In a message that he specifically requested Independent TDs to relay to the Taoiseach, Mr Martin said he would be “happy to go to the country again” rather than break an election promise and take Fianna Fail into government with Fine Gael.

It has also been learned that Mr Kenny has told Independent TDs he will resign as Taoiseach “within two years”, leading to speculation this weekend that Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is favourite to succeed him, perhaps precipitating an election.

As reported by the Sunday Independent two weeks ago, when he received Mr Martin’s message, Mr Kenny dispatched Fine Gael Senator Paddy Burke to offer positions at Cabinet, Minister of State and chairman of Oireachtas committees to Independent TDs.

Mr Coveney and Minister of State Simon Harris subsequently emerged as the key figures in Fine Gael negotiations with Independents and smaller parties. Yesterday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar was being blamed within Fine Gael for the breakdown in negotiations last week with the Social Democrats, which said it was not prepared to enter a minority government with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.

Fine Gael is hoping to secure between 60 and 70 votes for Mr Kenny as Taoiseach on April 6, although this weekend it is still well short of that threshold.

Last night, Mr Ross, a TD for Dublin-Rathdown, told the Sunday Independent: “The Independent Alliance is absolutely united in our determination to provide a radical but responsible government. Any attempts by the big parties to divide us will be resisted.”

However, Mr Kenny believes a government programme with a strong rural renewal package will secure the support of Mr Fitzmaurice, Independent Alliance TDs Sean ‘Boxer’ Moran from Longford- Westmeath, Sean Canney from East Galway and possibly also the Waterford TD John Halligan.

Such a move would leave Mr Ross, and possibly also the Dublin Bay North TD Finian McGrath, isolated and could herald the break-up of the Independent Alliance.

On RTE radio yesterday, Mr Fitzmaurice denied that there was a split between urban and rural TDs in the Independent Alliance. “It’s six of us or none of us,” he said.

Mr Kenny’s attempts to form a minority Fine Gael-led government are gathering momentum this weekend.

Michael Healy-Rae told the Sunday Independent: “Fine Gael seem to be making some effort. Fianna Fail, in my opinion, are not doing enough. They should be more forthright in their approach.

“They have a massive mandate got from the country. They should use that mandate properly.” Fine Gael, he said, seemed to be “more serious” about forming a government.

Mr Healy-Rae believed Fine Gael had come to realise that they “took their eye off the ball” when it came to rural Ireland and issues such as rural crime. He said it was “too early to say yet” who he would support as Taoiseach.

However, Mr Kenny is still far from assured of the support of another key block of Independent TDs, which is also being courted by Fianna Fail. These are Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish and newly elected TDs Michael Collins and Dr Michael Harty.

Fianna Fail this weekend sent a 53-page policy document to all Independent TDs and smaller parties. The document, which has been seen by the Sunday Independent, contains several measures related to the regeneration of rural Ireland.

The party states, “Rural Ireland has been neglected over the past five years,” adding: “This needs to radically change.” The party says it will create a new portfolio of Minister of Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs.

It promises increased investment in rural broadband and an audit of national phone coverage and a mobile phone infrastructure plan. A review of garda station closures is pledged, with an increase in the number of gardai from around 13,000 to 15,000; electronic tagging of burglars is planned within six months along with the installation of CCTV at the junctions of the country’s motorway network.

It promises to increase and expand the rural GP allowance. Fianna Fail is this week expected to step up attempts to form a minority government, which Independent groupings and smaller parties have so far felt to be “half-hearted”.

The party is not offering positions in office but is concentrating on policy issues. Mr Martin has so far not participated in talks but is expected to be available to do so this week. The party’s ‘mini-manifesto’ differs from its election manifesto in that it increases the number of priorities and sets six- and 12-month deadlines for implementing them.

Political reform and spreading the economic recovery are identified as priorities in their own right for the first time. Fianna Fail outlines how it wants to re-organise government departments, creating ministers for Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs, for Housing and for Climate Change.

It says that the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure will be amalgamated. In terms of deadlines – within six months, the party want to abolish the Economic Management Council, reform Oireachtas committees and restructure departments to “ensure more aggressive action on housing”.

There was strong criticism of the Fine Gael election campaign a meeting in the Red Cow hotel in Dublin yesterday, attended by senior party figures including Mr Kenny.

The meeting heard that the party was over-reliant on focus groups and that the heavy focus on the USC proposal failed to resonate with voters. There was also suggestions that the party suffered as a result of not holding the election in November.

Sources said there was also criticism of Enda Kenny’s performance during the campaign, with some figures present suggesting that this was due to “tiredness”.

Sunday Independent

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