Thursday 18 January 2018

FG and Labour secretly agree on election pact

Noonan, Howlin sign off deal at height of Callinan storm

Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan
Brendan Howlin and Michael Noonan

Jody Corcoran, Philip Ryan and Maeve Sheehan

The Coalition parties, Fine Gael and Labour, have secretly agreed a vote transfer pact to be announced next week before the return of the Dail, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Finance Minister, Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister, Brendan Howlin finalised the deal at the height of the storm over the Garda Commissioner controversy last week.

The involvement of Mr Noonan and Mr Howlin was to ensure the parties set out separate policies against the same economic backdrop.

The Coalition will now face into votes of confidence in the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Attorney General, Maire Whelan arising out of the Fennelly Commission report.

There is likely to be some opposition in both parliamentary parties to the deal, with one minister last night telling the Sunday Independent that Mr Kenny was "very lucky" to survive the fallout from the Fennelly Commission controversy.

The Sunday Independent has separately learned that senior Labour strategists last week also gave consideration to a General Election in November. But the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Tanaiste, Joan Burton remain adamant the election will not take place until February or March next year. Minister of State in the Department of Social Protection, Kevin Humphreys has already insisted he is totally opposed to the idea of any election pact.

But last night a source close to the Labour leader, Joan Burton told this newspaper: "A transfer between Labour and Fine Gael is on the cards. It makes sense as the best way of re-electing this Government.

"This won't be Mullingar Two - Joan's not in favour of a policy pact. She believes Labour will go into the election with an independent policy platform, which will give us the best scope to negotiate our key goals afterwards."

In 2004 Fine Gael and Labour entered what became known as the 'Mullingar accord' in advance of the 2007 election. This time the Coalition partners believe they can refine the pact: "There will be agreement on macro-economic numbers but very different policy platforms," one Labour source said. It is understood Ms Burton is planning to push through the vote-transfer pact at a meeting of the Labour parliamentary party in Wicklow next week.

The Labour leader is likely to meet some opposition, but the announcement will be more broadly welcomed in Fine Gael.

Labour Dublin North West TD John Lyons has already said that Fine Gael and Labour are "fundamentally two very different parties" and has said that he would "absolutely not" be in favour of a voting pact.

Meath East TD Dominic Hannigan has also said that he would not be in favour of a voting pact. "Personally I think the order of voting preference should be left to the electorate to decide," he has said.

Other Labour figures say the party should put pressure on Fine Gael in Budget negotiations to ensure more resources are allocated to spending on areas such as childcare and education.

One Labour figure told the Sunday Independent the party must "make Kenny pay for another Fine Gael controversy" related to the "retirement" of former Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.

But a Fine Gael minister shot back last night to "remind Labour" that Fine Gael TDs would support Attorney General, Maire Whelan in confidence motions when the Dail returns.

Mr Kenny is under pressure on another front this weekend as former Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter has told the Sunday Independent he still believes he has "a contribution of value" to make to public life.

Mr Shatter intends to contest the Fine Gael convention in Dublin-Rathdown on October 2 and if selected and re-elected in the General Election, has not ruled out a comeback to Cabinet.

Mr Shatter's comments came as a Cabinet minister broke ranks yesterday to say Mr Kenny was "very lucky" to survive the backlash from the Fennelly Commission into the events leading to Mr Callinan's shock retirement.

The senior minister, who did not want to be identified for fear public criticism of Mr Kenny would collapse the Government, said TDs were "getting it on the doors" from constituents since the Fennelly Report was published.

The Commission report is also causing unease within Fine Gael, with one senior party member claiming it showed how "sneaky" Mr Kenny was. "Technically it looks like he did nothing wrong but he comes across as a sneaky fecker. It was really unnecessary how he treated that man," the TD said.

The Opposition plans to focus on Labour's support for Mr Kenny in a vote of no confidence in the Taoiseach later this month. The Fennelly Commission report reveals Mr Shatter's evidence that "the Taoiseach was clearly of the view that the Garda Commissioner should resign or retire".

The former Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore also confirmed to Mr Justice Fennelly that "the Taoiseach did express doubts about whether he could continue to express confidence in the Commissioner". When Mr Justice Fennelly told the Taoiseach about Mr Gilmore's account, Mr Kenny said he could not "recall the accuracy of what he said" and, later, that he could not verify whether the words attributed to him by Mr Gilmore were the actual words he had used.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin have settled on a 50/50 split on tax cuts and expenditure in next year's budget. Both ministers are expected to introduce measures totalling €750m each. However, a massive €300m of Mr Howlin's budget has already been earmarked for public sector pay increases.

There is now a growing realisation within Labour that more money will be needed to pay for day-to-day spending and more pressure will have to be exerted on Fine Gael to secure funding for health, education and transport.

While her party colleagues are pushing for more expenditure, Ms Burton is understood to be "agreeable" to the even split on tax and spending, which was agreed by the controversial Cabinet sub-committee the Economic Management Council (EMC).

But the Tanaiste will demand that future budgets concentrate on public expenditure, should Labour be returned to power after the General Election.

The Sunday Independent has learned senior Labour figures recently discussed the prospect of a November election. There is a view in the party that it is better to go to the polls after the Budget but before people see the impact of tax cuts in their pay packets. But sources close to Ms Burton have pointed to an opinion poll 'bounce' the Coalition parties received in the months after the last Budget.

Sunday Independent

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