Wednesday 13 December 2017

Threat to Kenny as deal for government clears way for leadership heave

Tough: Enda Kenny (centre) with Richard Bruton, Simon Harris, Paschal Donohoe, Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald and Michael Noonan at an election news conference Photo: Tom Burke
Tough: Enda Kenny (centre) with Richard Bruton, Simon Harris, Paschal Donohoe, Leo Varadkar, Frances Fitzgerald and Michael Noonan at an election news conference Photo: Tom Burke
Enda Kenny. Photo: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

Fine Gael will be able to remove Enda Kenny as Taoiseach without sparking a general election under the agreement being hammered out with Fianna Fáil.

A written 'framework for a minority government' will state that the make-up of the Cabinet, including the position of Taoiseach, will be the sole prerogative of Fine Gael. The clause, which both parties are happy with, clears the way for a leadership heave should Fine Gael ministers decide to push Mr Kenny aside.

A series of gaffes by the Taoiseach during the election campaign have been widely blamed for Fine Gael's poor result but to date, ministers have remained steadfastly loyal, fearing any attempt to depose him would stop a government being formed.

However, senior sources in both parties have confirmed to the Irish Independent that once a minority government is formed Fianna Fáil will have no say over the personalities in the Cabinet.

"A reshuffle will be a matter for government business. We're not going to be in a position to influence that. It will be a completely internal Fine Gael matter," said a senior Fianna Fáil strategist.

Similarly, a Fine Gael source said: "The framework will have to state that the minority government has the right to carry out a reshuffle. Otherwise they'd be able to trap us with Enda Kenny."

Micheál Martin and Mr Kenny spoke on the phone yesterday, before their negotiating teams met in Government Buildings to pick up from where they left off when talks collapsed on Wednesday evening.

Sources told the Irish Independent the phone call was "very friendly" and the two men even "slagged" each other.

There was no mention of last week's row over a partnership government. No further meetings of the negotiating teams are scheduled until Monday and it is now expected a deal will not be struck until the week after next at the earliest.

So far, all the discussions have focused on the "mechanics and structures" of a minority government and no policy issues have been explored.

However, Fianna Fáil has drawn up a list of key areas where it will demand guarantees from Fine Gael. It wants the minority government to adopt a 2:1 ratio on public service spending over tax cuts in future budgets.

In health, it wants the National Treatment Purchase Fund to be reintroduced in a bid to shorten hospital waiting lists, and on taxation, any cuts to the Universal Social Charge must be targeted at low and middle-income earners.

The most contentious issue to be debated remains Irish Water but sources in both parties say they are hopeful of a compromise.

Fianna Fáil believes Fine Gael is in a weak position when it comes to water because the majority of TDs now oppose charges.

A source pointed out that unless charges are dealt with satisfactorily during the discussion, the minority government will face Dáil debates on the issue every few weeks.

"Something will have to be done," said the Fianna Fáil source.

A Fine Gael source indicated they are willing to do a deal which could include significant waivers for households and a reduction in the size of the utility.

"Fianna Fáil won't want to cause an election on the issue of water. Most of their voters are people who paid their charges, but they don't want to be outflanked by Sinn Féin either so we need to compromise," said the source.

Irish Independent

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