Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin called Enda Kenny yesterday seeking formal talks after next Wednesday’s Dáil taoiseach nomination vote in the first official contact between the pair since the general election.
The opposition leader confirmed the long-awaited move took place during a 20-minute conversation at lunchtime — despite Fine Gael later insisting no offer was made until after Mr Kenny phoned back in a bid to meet today.
Speaking at Leinster House 34 days after the general election and amid widespread calls for a public statement on the Dáil impasse, Mr Martin said he contacted Mr Kenny at lunchtime yesterday to clarify Irish Examiner reports Fine Gael was considering cancelling the April 6 vote.
During the 20-minute phone call, Mr Martin said Mr Kenny said the vote will still happen as scheduled, before the Fianna Fáil leader asked for the party leaders to meet after Wednesday to assess the political situation and how potentially a government can be formed.
It is understood that after the conversation, Mr Kenny unsuccessfully tried to phone Mr Martin back, before sending a text message suggesting a meeting today instead — a situation Fine Gael insist was the first time any talks offer was made.
However, the Fianna Fáil leader said in a text and voice-mail responding to the message there is no point in meeting before Wednesday’s vote, telling reporters yesterday he will discuss the matter after the Dáil ballot, with senior party figures last night saying “depending on what happens we could have two very different conversations”.
“Just before lunchtime, I rang the Taoiseach; in the first instance I told him I read reports there may be moves to defer the vote on Wednesday, the vote for taoiseach,” Mr Martin said.
“I made it clear I wouldn’t be supporting that, that I wanted it to go ahead next Wednesday and fall whatever way it falls.
“He confirmed that the vote would go ahead, and also that we are engaged in that negotiation process with the Independents and that we would be having (talks) sessions on Monday on Tuesday.
“We both agreed we would engage in the aftermath of that, and following conclusions on Wednesday.”
Mr Martin said despite the development, his party “wouldn’t be going into a grand coalition with Fine Gael”, but when asked later about potentially backing a Fine Gael-led minority government, he said repeatedly “I haven’t ruled anything out”.
The Fianna Fáil leader said he told Mr Kenny he was frustrated by Jobs Minister Richard Bruton’s comments on Wednesday that Fine Gael would not support a Fianna Fáil-led minority government, describing it as “intemperate language”.
Mr Martin also said he did not know if next Wednesday will end in stalemate, or if another election will occur, but argued that if this happens, “the responsibility is on the entire Dáil”.
Asked if Independents should now “pee or get off the pot” by explaining how they will vote because Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have now committed to talking to each other, the Fianna Fáil leader joked: “That might be the fastest way of losing a vote.”
Meanwhile, Mr Martin and two of his four-strong negotiation team — Barry Cowen and Jim O’Callaghan — met privately with Independent TD Katherine Zappone yesterday morning, before holding a separate meeting with Independents Clare Daly and Mick Wallace.
The party is not expected to hold any further meetings until its round table talks on Monday and Tuesday.
A senior party figure last night said nothing will happen until negotiations with Independents end, but suggested they “want us to provide cover for them” by entering talks with Fine Gael.
While environment spokesperson Mr Cowen and public expenditure and reform spokesperson Sean Fleming have previously said whoever loses Wednesday’s vote should allow the rival party to form a minority government, a Fianna Fáil spokesperson would not be drawn on the matter yesterday.
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