Kenny to seek FG backing for talks with Independents
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny will seek Fine Gael's backing to enter into a second round of talks with Independent TDs who have expressed a "serious interest" in forming a minority government.
The next phase of negotiations, scheduled to begin on Holy Thursday, March 24, will involve detailed policy discussions surrounding areas such as health and political reform.
Senior Fine Gael figures are understood to have assured Mr Kenny that the talks with Independents are progressing well and that they are confident of winning the vote for Taoiseach on April 6.
However, there is still an acceptance that a minority government is likely to require the support of Fianna Fáil on certain issues.
Independent deputies, meanwhile, are to consult with their supporters this weekend before further meetings with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil towards the end of next week.
"On Thursday and Friday, things will start to get serious," said one source involved the negotiations.
One potential problem for both Mr Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is being able to commit to Independents' demands, which appear to be rapidly stacking up.
Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae told the Irish Independent last night his support would be offered in return for a pledge to re-open rural garda stations, and the introduction of concrete measures aimed at protecting post offices and rural GPs.
And Independent TD Finian McGrath admitted that he wants to see significant investment in healthcare, in particular the area of cystic fibrosis.
Fine Gael ministers Simon Coveney and Simon Harris are expected to brief their parliamentary party on Tuesday on the progress of the talks to date.
Mr Kenny is likely to seek the backing of TDs to intensify the talks and establish which deputies are willing to back him in the April 6 vote.
Speaking in Brussels yesterday, Mr Kenny singled out the Green Party as having engaged in "constructive" talks.
"Obviously, we were talking about policy issues in so far as the Green Party is concerned," he said. "And obviously, they are looking forward, I think, to seeing issues that are of importance to the Green Party."
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil suffered a blow yesterday after Labour TD Willie Penrose rejected suggestions of voting for Micheál Martin for Taoiseach.
"Our focus now is on rebuilding the party. We will abstain on April 6," Mr Penrose said.
A spokesman for Tánaiste Joan Burton added: "We are prepared to engage in talks if they arise, but we have made very clear we won't be returning to government as we didn't receive a mandate to do so.
"For that reason, we believe the most important talks now are those between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil with a view to providing stable government."