Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has issued a come-and-get-me plea to Independent election candidates, saying he would take them “seriously” and is “prepared” to join forces as part of an alternative coalition after the general election.
Mr Martin made the first specific party push for Independent support, saying he wants to “build a critical mass of people who are focused on real Dáil reform“, as he again ruled out any coalition with Fine Gael or Sinn Féin, but left the door open for a potential deal with Labour.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin said he was prepared to sign up with Independents in order to “change how we do politics” and create a different Dáil where all parties, and not just established groups, are taken seriously.
While the latest opinion poll showed Fianna Fáil down 2% to 17%, indicating the party will be dependent on support from Independents and Labour to make themselves relevant as an alternative coalition option, Mr Martin said his only motivation is ensuring political reform takes place.
“Issues for us have to be the litmus test in terms of the next Dáil. I think it will be a different Dáil, it needs to be a different Dáil where all parties are taken seriously, including Independents,” said Mr Martin.
“I’m prepared to do that as a leader of a political party and I’m prepared to work with people who want to dramatically change the way the Dáil works, how we elect a ceann comhairle, and how we create a more Independent parliament.
“I think these are issues we need to discuss before a new parliament comes together, before a new government is formed, because this Government said they’d do it, we all said we’d do it, and then it didn’t happen.”
Mr Martin said the red line issues for his party should any coalition occur are housing, education, and health reform. He said Fianna Fáil wants to “rapidly” build social houses; change the regime of rent supplements; increase primary school and graduate grants funding, and ensure there is transparency in what he said is a “fraudulent” health budget.
The issues mirror a number of Independents and smaller parties key reform plans, including groups like the Social Democrats whose joint leader Catherine Murphy told today’s Irish Examiner that they can win seven seats.
While the belief that Independents will be kingmakers after the election — due to the fact that the next Dáil could potentially face stalemate among larger parties — has lessened since early summer, the smaller groups continue to control a key section of voters.
The latest Red C opinion poll on Sunday, December 20, found that while Fine Gael is on 32% (up 1%), Labour 9% (up 2%), Sinn Féin 19% (up 1%), and Fianna Fáil 17% (down 2%), Independents/others crucially hold 23% (down 2%).
The poll also found 15% of those surveyed have not decided who they will vote for — up 5% on the previous survey.
The diverse Independents/others group includes Independents (14%), Anti-Austerity Alliance/People before Profit (3%), the Greens (2%), Renua (2%) and the Social Democrats (2%).
The last Fianna Fáil-led government, which lasted 14 years from 1997 to 2011, and spanned three successful elections, depended heavily on a small but significant Independent and now defunct Progressive Democrats support.
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