Sunday 26 January 2020

Philip Ryan: Kenny still on course to lead government

Numbers game means FG leader is still in the driving seat despite support for Martin, writes Philip Ryan

Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Enda Kenny. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The public want Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin to be the next Taoiseach, according to the latest Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.

But what the public want and what they get are two entirely different matters.

Martin is on the crest of a wave after his odds-defying General Election campaign, but no matter what way you look at it, he doesn't have the numbers to lead the next government.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, acting or otherwise, is still in the driving seat to make history and become the only Fine Gael leader to run the country for two terms.

When every ballot box was counted, Kenny returned to Leinster House with 50 seats.

Martin had 44 seats but lost one when Sean O'Fearghail was elected Ceann Comhairle.

The race to lead the next government currently focuses on a group of 15 Independent TDs.

This is made up of six Independent Alliance TDs, the so-called Rural Five and the Healy-Rae brothers, along with unaligned Independents Katherine Zappone and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Extremely optimistic Fianna Fail TDs claim they could lure 10 of that group into supporting Martin in a Taoiseach vote.

This would bring Fianna Fail up to 53 seats and, bear in mind, this is a best case scenario.

Nonetheless, it would leave Kenny on 55, if he is to convince the other five to support him.

He also has the support, whether he likes it or not, from Independent Tipperary TD Michael Lowry, who pledged his support for Kenny even before government talks began.

So far he has not been invited to the table but his support brings Fine Gael up to 56 seats. On these figures, Martin still doesn't have the upper hand ahead of Wednesday's Taoiseach vote.

In the unlikely scenario he can convince Clare Daly and Mick Wallace to support Fianna Fail, he would still only have 55 seats.

The Social Democrats, Labour and the Green Party have ruled themselves out of government but will be asked by both sides to support from Opposition.

Apart from Lowry, it is also unlikely any of the Independents or smaller parties will nail their colours to the mast on Wednesday and vote for either leader.

Many believe there is no point in aligning themselves with any party before Martin and Kenny sit down and figure out how the next government - if there is to be one - will work.

This means the vote will produce the same outcome as when the Dail met on March 10: no Taoiseach.

After much farce last week, Martin and Kenny eventually agreed to talk after Wednesday's vote.

It is far too early to suggest the outcome, but the main subject of discussion will be whether Fianna Fail is willing to support a Fine Gael minority government.

Martin has notably not ruled out supporting Fine Gael in some capacity but a grand coalition is currently off the table - albeit to the disappointment of some Fianna Fail TDs who fancy seeing their names on the doors of government departments.

Kenny has ruled out supporting a minority Fianna Fail government, which was not the most diplomatic move given his tenuous position.

But the numbers are in his favour, and if some arrangement is not reached with Fianna Fail in the coming days or weeks, then it's back to the people for another general election.

Sunday Independent

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