By Daniel McConnell and Fiachra O Cionnaith
Minister Jim Daly has been slapped down again by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar after saying he had no objection to going into Government with Sinn Féin.
The Cork South West Minister for Mental Health gave the comments to HotPress magazine but the Taoiseach’s spokesman branded Mr Daly’s comments as inappropriate.
“It was not... an appropriate thing to say, for sure,” he said.
“Minister Daly was certainly not speaking on behalf of Government. The policies of Sinn Féin are far too different to Fine Gael. Minister Daly is a very capable minister but he certainly wasn't in a position to comment,” the Government Press Secretary said.
When pressed, the spokesman said such a coalition is not on the agenda. “The Government will not go in with Sinn Féin under any circumstances. It's not a consideration. It's not a desire, it's not a circumstance being considered,” he added.
Mr Daly believes should both parties secure enough votes to form a Government, then the electorate's desire must be listened to by politicians.
Formally, Mr Varadkar has ruled out a link with Sinn Féin due to ideological reasons. But there has been a sense that a thawing in relations between the two parties is underway.
The comments of Mr Daly, Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, however, go further than any senior Fine Gael minister has said to date.
“I have no ideological objection to Sinn Féin being part of a government," he said. "I just think, on a policy platform, it would be very difficult to agree a programme for government between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.
"But, look, politics is the art of doing – and who knows?”
Mr Daly said: “I don’t have an ideological objection. We live in a democracy. The will of the people has to be respected – and Sinn Féin’s mandate is as legitimate as any other party, as far as I’m concerned.”
Mr Daly made his comments in a lengthy interview with HotPress magazine.
Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty, meanwhile, did not rule out the prospect of joining forces with Fine Gael when asked about Mr Daly's comments yesterday. The party's finance spokesperson said while the decision was up to voters, Sinn Féin was open to speaking with all parties if they can show they are willing to push social reforms.
"In terms of future coalitions, look it's up to the electorate; when the election is called they will decide who they want to support. We believe we have a party which has the policies and the leaders to win the hearts and minds of people; we want to lead the next government, that's our ambition. It's a big ambition.
"Can Fine Gael step up to that mark, can Fianna Fáil step up to that mark? There's a long way to go between now and that election," he told reporters outside Leinster House.
Meanwhile, the elderly father of Mr Daly has received abusive hate mail over his the minister's decision to support the Eighth Amendment.