| 5.8°C Dublin

Fine Gael contacts Independents

Fine Gael has initiated informal contacts with key independent candidates to sound them out on their support for an Enda Kenny-led government, the Sunday Independent has learned.

A group of up to 16 independents with a chances of winning a Dail seat have been identified by Fine Gael and are poised to play a critical role in the formation of the next government.

Independent TDs will form a powerful bloc in the next Dail, according to today's Sunday Independent/Millward Brown Lansdowne opinion poll. The poll shows independents and others with a steady 14 per cent of first-preference votes. As Fine Gael closes in on a seat total in the mid-to-high seventies, the party is examining all of its options.

Senior party figures have claimed no formal approaches have been made to independents but high-profile independent Finian McGrath, who briefly supported the outgoing coalition, confirmed he had been "approached by top-level FG figures", even before the election was called.

A number of other independents have acknowledged they have been approached informally by senior Fine Gael strategists at constituency level.

"As an independent, I am open to talks with Fine Gael if they are serious about improving and protecting the health service, Dail reform and creating sustainable jobs," Mr McGrath said.

The Fine Gael focus has increasingly shifted toward the independents, who are poised to win around 20 seats in Friday's election.

Economist Paul Sommerville, polling well in Dublin South East, and senator Shane Ross, who was 'once a card-carrying FG member in good standing', are believed by FG to be viable options, should they be elected.

The party is also confident about securing the support of Michael Lowry, Michael Healy Rae, Michael Gleeson of the South Kerry Independent Alliance and former Fianna Fail Dail candidate Tom Fleming and James Breen in Clare.

The two Galway constituencies are also poised to play a critical role in the formation of any possible single-party Fine Gael government, with Fine Gael confident it can reach agreement with Noel Grealish or Tom Welby in Galway West, and Sean Cannery in Galway East.

Fine Gael sources also expressed considerable interest in the prospects of the former Workers Party candidate John Halligan in Waterford and the former independent TD for Kildare North Catherine Murphy -- a former member of both Democratic Left and the Labour party.

The independent former legalise cannabis activist Luke 'Ming' Flanagan in Roscommon South Leitrim might also be attracted by Fine Gael's pledge to allow turf cutting for domestic use in Special Areas of Conservation to continue for 2011 at least. Turf-cutting is a huge issue in many rural constituencies.

Sunday Independent