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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil TDs back historic government deal - but Varadkar faces opposition from within

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Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar (PA)

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has said it will take until at least June to form a government - as he faced opposition from Fine Gael Ministers to a grand coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Varadkar defended his deal with Micheál Martin in a teleconference with TDs and Senators on Wednesday, insisting the framework document negotiated between the two parties contains “solid Fine Gael thinking” on areas like tax and capital investment.

On the day their historic plan to govern together was published, the two party leaders faced contrasting moods in their respective parties.

Fianna Fáil TDs broadly backed Mr Martin’s approach in a teleconference call described as "all love and light" by one TD afterwards.

Mr Varadkar told his party that Fine Gael needs to play a role in government and that while he had no doubt it was the right thing for the country, he admitted it was "harder to judge" whether it is right for Fine Gael.

While Mr Varadkar was given the green light to proceed with efforts to form a government by reaching out to smaller parties, a number of ministers expressed opposition to coalescing with Fianna Fáil.

Rural Affairs Minister Michael Ring was said to be "firmly against" the idea. Local Government Minister John Paul Phelan warned "that far from stability this will bring instability".

A number of other ministers including Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and newly-elected Senators Seán Kyne and Michael D’Arcy expressed reservations about governing with Fianna Fáil - but did not openly oppose the deal. Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer raised concerns about Micheál Martin becoming Taoiseach.

By contrast the Fianna Fáil meeting was said to have passed off without any opposition being expressed to the efforts to form a government progressing.

Senior TD Jim O’Callaghan expressed concern about the party coming under attack from Sinn Féin for going into government with Fine Gael.

Mr O’Callaghan said Fianna Fáil needs to explain clearly that it is only going into Government because circumstances have changed and the country is facing the Covid- 19 national emergency.

He told colleagues that being in government will be difficult and Fianna Fáil needs to be ready for Sinn Fein attacks in "online videos".

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John McGuinness told the meeting the only thing missing from the framework document is "free WiFi and Netflix" and that he cannot see how any politician could not support it.

Those involved in the meeting said Mr McGuinness did not express a view either way on going into government with Fine Gael, but asked about how any programme for government would be approved.

Several TDs and Senators raised the issue of there being a lack of detail in the document and the need for the parliamentary to have more input into any programme for Government.

"Micheál has accepted that point and noted that people have already emailed suggestions for a programme for government and he wants to hear from members on what should be inputted," said one source source at the meeting.

Senator Fiona O’Loughlin suggested tax increases could be needed to fund spending commitments in the document.

Veteran TD Eamon Ó Cuív criticised the lack of accountability in the Dáil, at present, and again raised the prospect of a national unity government.

Both parties encountered technical difficulties with their respective teleconferences.

Fianna Fáil’s meeting was delayed as a number of TDs and senators had trouble connecting.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael chairman Martin Heydon, fearing the call had been infiltrated by non-parliamentary party members, inadvertently disconnected a number of members whose numbers were not recognised.

"These things are not great," said one TD afterwards.

Earlier, senior figures in both parties were scrambling to sell the prospect of a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition to the grassroots.

Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary wrote to all members insisting the party's core principles are protected in the framework document. He wrote: "I know that for many of you that this is a difficult proposition.

"However, our country is going through one of its greatest tests and faces more such tests in the immediate future.

"Our party has never shirked from the challenge of government in testing times. I believe we cannot shirk that challenge on this occasion."

Fine Gael Ministers Josepha Madigan and Richard Bruton were deployed to gauge the views of councillors in Limerick and Dublin respectively.

It is understood there were some calls among the Limerick representatives for a possible second election after the coronavirus crisis.

Cllr John Sheahan said councillors didn't come down one side or the other on doing a deal with Fianna Fáil.He said "it's a suck it and see situation with the Grand Coalition but there were concerns about it."

In Dublin, Fingal councillor Tom O'Leary who was on the conference call with Mr Bruton said there was a "large majority" in favour of a coalition subject to a detailed Programme for Government being agreed.

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