Saturday 18 November 2017

Revealed: Taoiseach offers half of Cabinet seats to keep power in extraordinary plan

FG leader tells ministers he'll quit if he can't be next Taoiseach

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is greeted by well-wishers as he arrives at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is greeted by well-wishers as he arrives at the Royal Theatre in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo: PA
Enda Kenny has assured Fine Gael colleagues that he will resign as leader of the party if he is not elected as Taoiseach Photo: Tom Burke
Click to see a bigger version of the graphic

Jody Corcoran, Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny is making an extraordinary behind-the-scenes attempt to form a government of 80 seats, in which Independents and TDs from smaller parties would comprise over half the Cabinet, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

It has also been learned that Mr Kenny has assured Fine Gael ministers that he will resign as leader of the party if he is not elected as Taoiseach.

Last night it emerged that the Labour Party may not support Mr Kenny's nomination for Taoiseach this Thursday.

Mr Kenny's resignation concession, at his first meeting with Fine Gael senior minsters after the party's disastrous election, was aimed at buying time to allow him to form a government and save his political career.

Surrounded by all eight current Fine Gael Cabinet ministers in Government Buildings on Wednesday afternoon, the Taoiseach asked for support ahead of government negotiations and pledged not to contest the next Fine Gael leadership contest if he did not succeed in returning as leader of the country.

Read more: Downfall: the inside story of Fine Gael's doomed campaign

Mr Kenny then dispatched Senator Paddy Burke, the Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, to contact two different groups of Independent TDs, during which an offer of Cabinet seats was made.

Mr Burke, who, like Mr Kenny, is from Mayo, contacted two members of a new group of Independents comprising 10 TDs by telephone and offered two Cabinet seats, three Minister of State appointments and the chairmanship of a number of Oireachtas committees.

This group is made up of Denis Naughten (Roscommon-Galway), Noel Grealish (Galway West), Mattie McGrath (Tipperary), Michael Collins (Cork South-West), Thomas Pringle (Donegal), Dr Michael Harty (Clare) Michael and Danny Healy-Rae (Kerry) and another TD whose identity could not be confirmed.

However, neither of the Healy-Raes attended a subsequent meeting of this group of Independents last week.

"Kenny is desperate, absolutely desperate," said a source who attended the meeting.

Separately, Mr Burke also made contact with the Independent Alliance of six TDs, during which an offer of Cabinet seats was said to have been "implied".

A source said: "There was no doubt, Cabinet seats - that's what was on offer."

Read more: 'There's no such thing as how much I'm worth. Christ, I'm not Madonna'

This source said the Independent Alliance would also have to expect two Cabinet seats. The alliance consists of Shane Ross (Dublin-Rathdown), Michael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway), Sean Canney (Galway East), John Halligan (Waterford) and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran (Longford-Westmeath).

While Mr Burke made contact with Independents behind the scenes, Mr Kenny held meetings with TDs at Government Buildings.

In relation to such a meeting with Mr Kenny last week, Shane Ross writes in today's Sunday Independent: "Sometime in the middle of the exchanges, an awful truth dawned. We were possibly in dialogue with a political corpse."

The Sunday Independent understands that neither group of Independents warmed to Mr Kenny's various overtures last week. The two groups emphasised the demand for parliamentary reform as a priority. Sources in both Independent camps say they believe the electorate voted to remove Mr Kenny from office and they are reluctant, at this stage, to support his bid to return to power.

Mr Kenny is expected to meet this week with representatives of the Social Democrats and the Greens, who would also expect Cabinet positions.

Mr Burke is understood to have told Independent TDs that Mr Kenny is hoping to put together a government of 80 seats, including the Labour Party, who would also expect two Cabinet seats.

Read more: The day the rural heartland revolted and cried: 'Where is our recovery?'

Therefore, Mr Kenny's proposed Cabinet may consist of himself as Taoiseach; Fine Gael (six seats); Labour (two seats); Independents (two seats); Independent Alliance (two seats); Social Democrats (one seat); Greens (one seat).

Labour is expected to vote for Mr Kenny as Taoiseach on Thursday, although yesterday there was a growing suggestion that the party may abstain, raising the prospect that the Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, may close the gap on Mr Kenny.

So far, Labour figures have publicly indicated that should Mr Kenny be unsuccessful this Thursday, the party would not feel obliged to support him in subsequent votes. Labour believes its immediate future is in Opposition.

As part of Mr Kenny's behind-the-scenes plan, the outside support of two further Independent TDs - said to be Katherine Zappone and Tommy Broughan - would also be required to secure 80 seats.

Independent TDs also believe Mr Kenny intends to rely on former Fine Gael TD Michael Lowry not to vote against such a government. There is also, apparently, an intention that Fine Gael would support the Fianna Fail nomination for the position of Ceann Comhairle next Thursday, reducing that party's number of TDs in the Dail.

After his meeting with current Fine Gael ministers last week, Mr Kenny was given space to try to put together a government.

"He said if he is not Taoiseach, he's not going to go around the country to branch meetings and parish halls trying to rebuild the party and all the other things you have to do as an Opposition leader," a minister who attended the meeting said.

Other ministers also confirmed that Mr Kenny set out his intention to resign as leader if Fine Gael ends up on the Opposition benches.

Yesterday the former Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery said he believed that Mr Kenny would not lead the next government.

He said: "What he will do is he will lead the country through the next phase, the Easter celebrations and all that. He will put his very considerable skills available to the process of building a consensus for a new government. He will then quietly return to the back-benches for the remainder of his time, facilitate Fine Gael to start picking a new leader and that will be it for him. The man has the dignity, the wisdom and the foresight to see the inevitability of that."

Mr Flannery said Fianna Fail and Fine Gael had an "absolute national duty" to form a strong government.

Read more: Who cares what Dunphy says, baby?

The Fianna Fail TD John McGuinness has also urged Mr Martin to put aside "historical divisions" and open talks with Mr Kenny, as did Sligo-Leitrim TD, Marc MacSharry.

However, Fianna Fail sources say Mr Martin will this week step up his contacts with Independents and smaller parties, during which he will emphasise parliamentary reform, in a bid to maximise his support for election as Taoiseach this Thursday.

The prospect of a Fine Gael-led minority government remains the most likely this weekend, however there is also growing support among Independent TDs, in particular, for Mr Martin and a Fianna Fail-led minority government.

Health minister Leo Varadkar, Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald or Agriculture minister Simon Coveney, are widely seen as potential successors to Mr Kenny. Transport minister Paschal Donohoe's standing has also increased significantly after his victory in the Dublin Central.

Sunday Independent

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