Saturday 24 March 2018

Secret Fine Gael bid to woo Lowry

Party courts 'gang of four' Independents in snub to Ross and Renua

Michael Lowry
Michael Lowry

John Drennan and Philip Ryan

Michael Lowry has been approached by senior Fine Gael figures about the prospect of propping up the next government, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr Lowry is among a group of four non-aligned Independent TDs being targeted by Fine Gael ahead of the forthcoming general election - a move aimed at eliminating the need to form a government with either Lucinda Creighton's Renua or the Shane Ross Alliance.

The 'gang of four' include Kerry South TD Michael Healey Rae, Galway's Noel Grealish and former Fine Gael Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughton.

The Sunday Independent has established all four of the future king makers have been privately approached by key Fine Gael figures about supporting a future government, led by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Lowry said: "In the last six months, there have been all sorts of suggestions for consideration put to us privately."

"I have very good relationships within Fine Gael, understandably. If you form an agreement with a government, you need resilience, you need discipline to stay the distance, not flouncy types who will be out in a huff," he added.

The pre-election manoeuvres spearheaded by Finance Minister Michael Noonan bear a startling resemblance to the first Bertie Ahern Fianna Fail-led government, which was propped up by four Independents, including Jackie Healy-Rae.

Mr Lowry played a key role in supporting Ahern's third coalition and subsequent Brian Cowen government.

Like the previous Fianna Fail governments, any arrangement reached with the Independents will be heavily reliant on 'parish pump' deals for their constituencies.

Michael Healy-Rae refused to comment on suggestions he had talked with FG, but said the "best interests of the people in Kerry will be at the heart" of his decisions.

The possibility of building such relationships with Independents was initially raised by Minister Noonan at the autumn think-in and is most likely to come into operation should FG and Labour narrowly miss out on an overall majority after election 2016.

To date, political speculation has centred on the possibility of Shane Ross or Ms Creighton's Renua propping up a Fine Gael-Labour coalition. However, the prospect of the 'gang of four' supporting a government was first raised by a senior minister who told the Independent TDs: "I don't want to be ringing Shane Ross or Renua after the election and I certainly don't want them in the f***ing cabinet."

"They don't want fellas who are jumping up and down, saying I want to be a junior minister and all that type of stuff," another source said.

It is understood the four TDs believe ministers have been noticeably more helpful and approachable since the start of the year, after the emergence of new political alternatives. The 'gang of four' are a disparate group but are seen as "trustworthy" politicians who can be relied on to support a government through a full term in office.

Mr Naughton, a poll topping Fine Gael deputy, has had an icy relationship with Mr Kenny since he quit the party over the closure the Roscommon General Hospital's emergency department.

However, the Sunday Independent understands tensions between the pair eased in recent months, after Mr Naughton refused to join any of the Independent alternatives.

Noel Grealish is a former Progressive Democrats TD, while Mr Lowry, prior to his involvement in the Moriarty Tribunal, was seen as a future Fine Gael leader.

Mr Lowry insisted he will be running in the general election on a "freelance basis", but after ballots are counted, he is open to discussions.

"I would say the way polling and arithmetic is going, Fine Gael and Labour will need support or a FF and FG coalition," he said.

"I have been in the position already to influence the formation of two governments; why wouldn't I do it again?

"A lot of things that are not practical and possible before an election become highly practical and possible afterwards," he added.

Sunday Independent

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