Daniel McConnell: Lack of appetite for office in our hour of need

Daniel McConnell: Lack of appetite for office in our hour of need

While the Green Party’s involvement in government is now extremely doubtful, the same question can also be asked of Fine Gael. It is startling to see such tepid appetites, writes Daniel McConnell

Daniel McConnell: Lack of appetite for office in our hour of need
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.(Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire)

HOW eager are Fine Gael about going into government?

It was Leo Varadkar who said Fine Gael will only serve in government if a third party is in there with them and that is now looking increasingly unlikely.

As Tánaiste Simon Coveney conceded to me, plenty of his colleagues are only dying to jump to opposition, regroup, and leave it to Micheál Martin to sort things out.

“The honest answer to that question is that within every party there are differing views about going into government,” he told me.

“I mean, in my own party, there’s a lot of people who feel after the last election that you would be better off — they’d be better off — in opposition. Politically, to focus on rebuilding the party and so on, that’s a legitimate view,” he said candidly.

Were Coveney’s comments a way of provoking the Greens into not going in — allowing Fine Gael to walk away and blame Ryan and Co for collapsing the whole process?

That theory was certainly voiced yesterday by a number of Fianna Fáilers doubtful whether Fine Gael’s hearts are really in it.

Fine Gael, as Coveney told me, stood aside after the election, which he said “was a bad election for Fine Gael”, and the prospect of being in government again with reduced influence and seats was not an appealing one.

He says they only stood up when Sinn Féin and the other parties couldn’t make it work.

They have since hatched their deal with the old enemy in Fianna Fáil but several Fine Gaelers have made clear that a second election is preferable.

“We really can’t go any lower and there are a number of seats we missed out on in February and we could snatch this time,” said one minister.

But the question must also be asked: Do the Greens actually want to go into government?

If they do, it is time to you-know-what or get off the pot, to be honest.

If you were listening to Catherine Martin, the party’s deputy leader, on radio yesterday, one would wonder.

Daniel McConnell: Lack of appetite for office in our hour of need
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney arriving in Government Buildings, Dublin, as he briefs the media on the latest measures Government Departments have introduced in response to Covid-19.(Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire)

On the final ever “Friday Gathering” on Today with Sean O’Rourke, Martin was asked to respond to an interview Coveney did with me on Thursday evening for yesterday’s front page.

Coveney, clearly somewhat impatient at the slow pace of government formation talks -84 days and counting-, clearly outlined the scepticism over the Green Party’s demand for a 7% per year reduction in carbon emissions.

Last week, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that securing a commitment from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to such a cut in emissions is an absolute red line to his party’s participation in talks.

Coveney said the Green Party can forget its 7% carbon emission reduction demand if it “decimates” farming and rural Ireland.

Coveney said bluntly: “I am not going to put farmers out of business.”

Reflecting the deep level of unease in his party about the Green Party’s “red-line” on a 7% reduction in carbon emissions, Coveney said he wants to work with the Greens in government, but commitments made must be realistic.

“Nothing has been ruled out, effectively. But there are some things you simply can’t say yes to without figuring out how it’s going to be done,” he said.

But he was adamant he would prefer to have another election than sign up to measures that would jeopardise Irish farmers’ livelihoods. “Well, if it decimates rural Ireland, we’re not doing it. Ok, let’s be very clear on that, right. You know we are not going to sign up to a programme for government that decimates rural Ireland. That’ll never happen. OK, even if that means another election,” he said.

“We will discuss with the Green Party about some of their concerns around agriculture and I think that they understand our perspective and we understand theirs,” Coveney added.

When pressed by O’Rourke for her reaction to Coveney’s comments, Catherine Martin said she found his comments “quite shocking”.

“The Tánaiste’s intervention today on the front page of the Examiner is most unhelpful,” she said.

“This is not the Green Party’s 7%. This target comes from the Paris Agreement. Unless we reduce by 7% we are facing catastrophic damage to the planet.

“It was Fine Gael who signed this; it’s disturbing, alarm bells are ringing. Alarm bells are also ringing over their stances on public housing, direct provision, and key social issues.”

When debating with Fine Gael’s Dublin South-West TD Colm Brophy over the target, Martin said his party is being disingenuous about the issue, which has already been debated at a Citizens’ Assembly and recommended by an Oireachtas committee. Martin said Coveney is “playing to his crowd, his voters”.

“Commit to the 7% and then we’ll talk — commit to the 7%,” she said starkly.

“Let’s be honest: We had farmers protesting on the streets for the last six months. They have more to fear from Fine Gael than the Green Party. They were protesting Fine Gael, not the Greens.”

Daniel McConnell: Lack of appetite for office in our hour of need
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD
at Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin.
Photo:Gareth Chaney/Collins

She made clear that the party would need two thirds of its active members to support going into government and there is a big doubt as to whether that threshold can be reached.

“There is huge unrest out there in relation to how those key questions we asked were addressed,” she said.

“To be quite candid, I share the members’ concerns.

“We have to decide, but we remain open-minded; I share the concerns.

“We have to be authentic to who we are, be credible to our members,” she set out in plain terms.

The tone and tenor of Martin’s response to the Tánaiste’s comments struck some as slightly exaggerated and reinforced a widely-held belief that she and several of her new TD colleagues really do not want to go into government with the two other parties.

Martin says the entire process of government formation so far has been one “not built on solid foundations”.

She hit out at the decision of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil not to even talk to Sinn Féin, while at the same time talking of a need for a stable, strong government.

Martin, along with a number of her colleagues, has pressed for several weeks the need for a “national unity” government — a proposal which has repeatedly been ruled out by the other parties.

Ryan, as leader of his party, clearly does desire a return to ministerial office, but Martin and her reluctant colleagues appear to be holding sway at present and some have openly called into question their own leader’s motives.

But while the Green Party’s involvement in government is now increasingly doubtful, the same question can also be asked of Fine Gael.

It is startling to see such tepid appetites from major political parties towards going into power.

It is rather shameful when the country so desperately needs a strong government.

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