By Juno McEnroe and Daniel McConnell
Fianna Fáil has ruled out forming a government with Sinn Féin but wants Fine Gael to clarify if it would support Micheál Martin as Taoiseach in a reverse confidence-and-supply deal.
Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin told his parliamentary party yesterday that he wants to form a government — but has ruled out working with Sinn Féin.
Speaking to TDs, senators and MEPs in Leinster House, Mr Martin discussed the fallout from the weekend's general election, in which the party lost 15 seats and only won 37 overall.
He told the gathering that he wants to try to put a government together — leaving all options open except working with Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin. It is understood that he said a five-year term is preferable and that something “radical and different” is needed.
There were suggestions in recent days that Fianna Fáil could seek to build a 'super' coalition involving Fine Gael and the Greens — a huge majority that would not require others.
There was also no challenge to Micheál Martin's leadership at the meeting, despite the bruising election results and recriminations in recent days over party strategies in the campaign.
Earlier, a number of new and returning TDs told the Irish Examiner of their opposition to cooperating in a coalition with Sinn Féin. There is also a larger view that Ms McDonald's party should be allowed “at it”, said sources, after winning the popular vote in the election.
At the meeting, which began at midday, Mr Martin made a strong plea to be given a mandate to enter government and those present approved a motion to appoint a negotiating team.
Mr Martin, despite being under considerable pressure, did not face any challenge to his position at the meeting. According to sources, Mr Martin expressed a desire to avoid a second general election and was backed by the likes of Michael McGrath, Thomas Byrne and Darragh O'Brien.
Mr Martin was deeply critical of Sinn Féin in his remarks, saying their economic agenda poses a significant risk to Ireland's open economy. He said the next government must be “radical and different” and appealed to his TDs, Senators and MEPs that he be given a mandate to seek to enter government and begin discussions with other parties.
Limerick County TD Niall Collins said that the party is fully behind not going into government with Sinn Féin, as did Cavan-Monaghan's Brendan Smyth and Cork North Central's Pádraig O'Sullivan.
Mr Collins also said a possible coalition with Fine Gael was not really discussed at the meeting, and added that it may not be possible to form a government.
It comes as Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, earlier told her parliamentary party meeting that it would be "quite a challenge" for Fianna Fáil to sign up to a government of change, but there is an obligation to act urgently. Ms McDonald has also written to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin seeking a meeting about government formation.
But Michael McGrath, Fianna Fáil's finance spokesman, last night called on Fine Gael to clarify its position on supporting his party from the opposition benches. While Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, had left open the door on a reverse confidence-and-supply agreement during the election campaign, Tánaiste, Simon Coveney, had ruled this out, Mr McGrath told RTÉ: “It has to be explored, there are no easy options here."
Mr McGrath also said it is "premature" to talk about a possible Fianna Fail-Fine Gael coalition. He added that it is Fianna Fail's "objective to be in government to get things done" and that Micheál Martin "absolutely" wants to be Taoiseach
Nonetheless, Mr McGrath played down the chances of a political solution being reached by next Thursday, when the new Dáil will first meet, while he said the talks should not drag on for months.