Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has categorically ruled out a so-called grand coalition with Fianna Fáil after the next election, saying he wants the current government re-elected.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Varadkar said speculating about such an arrangement is like being at a disco and eyeing up another partner when you are already on a dancefloor with one.
“I am leading a coalition of Fine Gael and Independents that’s working well and implementing its programme. I hope it will last many years yet and perhaps even get re-elected,” he said.
Pressed about his views on the possible grand coalition with Fianna Fáil, as proposed by Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes in recent weeks, the Taoiseach said: “Speculating about a new partner is like eyeing up the wallflowers when you are dancing with someone already. It’s not something I intend to do.”
Mr Varadkar’s comments come amid increasing certainty that once October’s budget is concluded, Fianna Fáil will soon after seek to withdraw from the confidence and supply arrangement early and force a general election before the summer of 2018.
Senior sources within Fianna Fáil have told the Irish Examiner that they are operating on the basis of an election no later than the summer break.
“Selection conventions have already begun, once this non-budget is through, then the reasons for continuing to prop up Fine Gael fade away,” said one front-bench figure.
According to a special report in today’s Irish Examiner, Fine Gael is targeting 60 seats in the next Dáil, an increase of 10 on what it achieved in the 2016 general election.
It can also be revealed that senior Fianna Fáil TDs believe the party can gain at most 10 additional seats at the next election and are angered by leader Micheál Martin’s ruling out of a coalition with Sinn Féin.
“He has ruled out Fine Gael, which is one thing, but repeatedly and so ball-headedly saying no to Sinn Féin, he has boxed us into a corner without needing to do so,” said one senior party figure.
“We can, at best, win 10 seats and we are vulnerable in a few places so there is no guarantee we leap forward again. But if we don’t get ahead of Fine Gael and Micheál is not willing to do the business, then he could be in trouble.”
Several party figures speaking to the Irish Examiner have expressed their deep frustration with being in opposition and the prospect of another term outside of government has heaped pressure on Mr Martin to deliver them into power, one way or the other.
“We are now six years out of government and being in opposition makes your head go soft,” said one senior party figure.
“We have to be in power next time around or you might see lads start considering Europe as an option.
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