Friday 6 December 2019

Martin expects 40 seats as Fianna Fail surges in polls

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is surrounded by well wishers at the count centre at City Hall, Cork
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin is surrounded by well wishers at the count centre at City Hall, Cork

Kevin Doyle, Ralph Riegel and Philip Ryan

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin expects his party to win more than 40 seats after what he described as an "absolutely incredible" election for the party that so many had written off just five years ago.

He said Fianna Fail gains were beyond expectation but insisted every party candidate took part in the campaign to win. Fianna Fail is expected to more than double its number of TDs.

Mr Martin refused to comment on the prospects of a Fianna Fail-Fine Gael deal if the 32nd Dail has no other means of delivering stable Government.

"It is too early to talk about that," he said. "What I can say is that Micheal Martin has always put the country first.

"That has happened in the past and that is what is going to happen again."

Mr Martin said that his party will stand for fairness, decency and stability - and will demand that of any government that emerges.

"When the new Dail meets, Fianna Fail will nominate me for Taoiseach. After that we will just have to see what happens."

Mr Martin insisted that the ultimate breakdown of seat numbers in the 32nd Dail may still vary greatly - and other combinations for Government could emerge.

"What Fianna Fail fought this campaign on was getting fairness back into Irish politics and getting this Fine Gael-Labour Government out of office.

"We have done that. We have worked very hard over the past five years to listen to what the Irish people had to say. We will now listen very carefully to the message they spelled out at the ballot box."

However, when speaking to RTE his position on a coalition with Fine Gael softened.

"There's a responsibility on every TD, not just Fianna Fail or Fine Gael, there are other parties and groups," he said.

"Everybody elected to Dail Eireann has responsibility to do the best by the country and we're committed to doing our best by the country and make sure that the country gets a good Government. It's going to take time. It has to be very much focused on the issues and the policies, not just on numbers," he added.

Meanwhile, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Sunday Independent he could not see any way that a Taoiseach would be elected before St Patrick's Day.

He said Mr Martin has a responsibility to meet with each of the political groupings to see if he can agree on a way forward.

"It's a new horizon," he said.

"A proposal was put to the people by the outgoing government to re-elect Fine Gael and Labour. It was accepted that they might need a few Independents - but it was totally rejected by the people.

"There was no clear alternative offered so it will probably take two weeks of everybody being included and then those that don't want to take part being eliminated," Mr Ahern said.

The former Fianna Fail leader suggested Mr Martin will be obliged to meet with Sinn Fein, the Independent Alliance, other Independents, AAA-PBP and the Social Democrats before going to Fine Gael.

"It's too early to run ahead that says 'grand coalition'," he said.

Former Fianna Fail minister Willie O'Dea remained sceptical about the idea of a deal with Fine Gael.

"We've ruled out the idea of going into government with Fine Gael.

"It was said to me: 'Why don't you want to go into government with Fine Gael? Are you protecting Fianna Fail's interests?' I'm not. My primary concern is the interests of the country," he said.

"I don't think it would be in the interests of the country that Sinn Fein would be in Opposition, leading the Opposition."

Some senior sources within Fianna Fail last night expressed concern that Enda Kenny will turn to Sinn Fein before he considers forming a 'grand coalition'.

A senior source said Mr Kenny would try anything to "save his soul".

"Enda Kenny's only short-term goal at the moment is to save his own position so he is likely to do a deal with anyone," one of the sources said.

"Enda Kenny in the short term will be saying 'save my soul'. So Sinn Fein will be an option and obviously a mishmash of God knows how many Independents.

"Labour won't be going in. I'd say they are doing the tapping up now to see what they can offer," the source added.

There have been two occasions when the Dail has failed to nominate a Taoiseach at the first time of asking.

Mr Martin was cheered as he arrived at City Hall shortly before 4pm - and received a hug from his wife, Mary, amid party supporters delighted by imminent electoral gains.

"It has been a very good campaign for Fianna Fail - there is no doubt about that," he said.

"I think everyone in Fianna Fail felt energised by the campaign and today is all about those party volunteers who worked so hard, knocked on doors and helped with the renewal of the party. They deserve the credit."

The Dail is due to sit on March 10 to elect a new Taoiseach, but that is now extremely unlikely to happen.

Proceedings will be opened at 10.30am when the Clerk of Dail Eireann Peter Finnegan will read out the Proclamation. A Ceann Comhairle will be elected by secret ballot.

Sunday Independent

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