Monday 16 September 2019

Burton plots left alliance to prop up Kenny's minority government

The Labour leader has been in talks about a rainbow coalition with Soc Dems and Greens, says Philip Ryan

I'll be back: Joan Burton (right) with Fine Gael's Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald at a 1916 ceremony at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. The Labour leader could yet re-enter government with FG as part of a rainbow coalition
I'll be back: Joan Burton (right) with Fine Gael's Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald at a 1916 ceremony at Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin. The Labour leader could yet re-enter government with FG as part of a rainbow coalition

Labour leader Joan Burton is suffering with a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Doctors and experts from the four corners of the world are expected to jet into Ireland in the coming days to examine the acting Tanaiste.

There is even talk of a Discovery Channel documentary crew following Burton as she returns to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's cold but loving embrace despite the five years of torment he caused her and her party.

Even after voters reaped the Labour Party of TDs with the national scythe, she still wants one more dance with the Grim Reaper.

And Kenny is more than happy to oblige. In fact, some Fine Gael ministers are beside themselves with delight at the prospect of Burton and gang flouncing around Government Buildings for another five years.

One Fine Gael Cabinet minister, frustrated by the demands of needy Independents, privately said: "Come back Labour - all is forgiven."

Moves are afoot to get the old gang back together for one last job.

At the very least, Burton and Kenny might be able to stave off the blood-thirsty wolves in their own parties for a few months if they struck a deal.

Last week, the day after a story appeared in the Irish Times suggesting Burton wanted to continue to lead the Labour Party despite the election wipe-out, she met with Kenny in Government Buildings.

Also in attendance were her would-be successors Alan Kelly, currently Labour's deputy leader, and Brendan Howlin, who wants the top job without an election. Howlin's best pal and Fine Gael elder statesman Michael Noonan was also there.

The point of the meeting from Fine Gael's perspective was to convince Labour to rethink its position on refusing to enter government - a decision taken due to the fact that there are now just seven of them in the Dail.

A Labour source said that Fine Gael told them they are "fed up" with the lists of pork-barrel demands from Independents.

Purposely, the public has been given the impression that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's discussions with Independents have been on policies which need to be implemented in the national interest.

But, as with all politics, and especially Irish politics, it all boils down to keeping the local voters who put you in office happy. Today, some of those demands can be revealed for the first time.

A Fine Gael source close to the talks told the Sunday Independent the demands include a motorway from Tuam to Derry, a railway from Athenry to Letterkenny, tax exemptions for construction workers and unlimited free transport for everyone with a disability.

"It's every idea they have, or their supporters have or a lobby group passed on to them," the source said.

Keeping all 15 of the Independents happy could, at a conservative estimate, cost the State €13bn, according to the same source.

Another cause for concern is a proposal by the Independent Alliance which Fine Gael believes will make it easier to commit relatives to mental hospitals and residential addiction centres against their will.

The alliance of six Independents - led by Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice - holds the power to bring Kenny up to the necessary 58 TDs.

However, there is a realisation in Fine Gael that the Alliance cannot be trusted even if the group decides to back Kenny in the next vote for Taoiseach.

Which brings us back to Labour and Joan Burton, who is now actively considering keeping Kenny in power.

But this time she plans to prop up Fine Gael under the cloak of an Alliance of the Left.

With all eyes on Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's courtship of Independents, Burton has been able to quietly develop channels of communication with other like-minded TDs.

Secret talks have been held within the confines of Leinster House and elsewhere in Dublin between Labour, the Green Party and the Social Democrats.

Initially, the idea was to form a block of 12 TDs (seven Labour, two Green and three Soc Dems) to enable more prominent speaking time during Dail debates.

But things have changed rapidly in the past week and frantic phone calls have been made and meetings held between all those involved.

Now, discussions surround offering Kenny a left-of-centre block of TDs which would enter into a rainbow coalition with Fine Gael and some of those mostly right-of-centre Independents.

Despite officially leaving the talks three weeks ago, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has been in constant contact with Fine Gael's chief negotiator Simon Coveney.

Ryan strongly believes that the next government needs to be more balanced in terms of political ideologies and has been urging Labour and the Soc Dems to join him in providing this balance.

Kenny is also known be very anxious to get Labour and the Soc Dems back into the mix before the next vote for Taoiseach is held.

The Soc Dems ruled themselves out of the race early on and say they want to build the party in opposition, which to most people sounds like a cop-out. However, that was a long time ago and much has changed since.

Independents have talked about how supporting a Kenny-led government is a "hard sell" for them to bring to their supporters.

For Burton, it will be like trying to sell life insurance to the dead. And she will have to sell it, as any move back towards government will have to be brought before a vote of the Labour membership.

But the commitments in return for the party's support could be significant.

"At this stage Fine Gael would sell their family to get it over the line," a Labour source said.

Over this weekend, as Fianna Fail TDs returned to their constituencies to assess the damage from pledging to put Kenny back into power, Fine Gael is tying up support with Independents, Labour and the Greens.

However, it remains to be seen if Fianna Fail would be able to stomach putting Kenny and Burton back into power after all the political play acting.

Nonetheless, the prospect of Kenny and Burton posing again for Cabinet pictures in Aras an Uachtarain is very much alive.

Sunday Independent

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