Fine Gael have denied a third failure to elect a Taoiseach next week would automatically trigger a general election.
However, the party has acknowledged that Fianna Fáil’s rejection of a partnership government has moved the possibility of another election even closer to becoming a reality.
Fine Gael are scrambling to assure Independent TDs after Fianna Fáil ruled out a partnership government yesterday evening.
It appears the only option now, apart from going to the polls yet again, is the formation of a minority government which would be propped up by Independents.
Enda Kenny had put forward the possibility of a coalition government on Wednesday night that would have included Fianna Fáil and the 15 Independents who have taken part in negotiations to date.
Speaking after Micheál Martin rejected Mr Kenny’s offer of a joint government, acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar denied an election would be on the cards if TDs fail to elect a Taoiseach on the third attempt next week.
Mr Varadkar said: “If the Dáil doesn’t elect a Taoiseach on Thursday it doesn’t automatically trigger a general election. We will continue the work, we are going to try and provide a government.”
But acting Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney described next Thursday as “a very significant day”: “I think people are going to get more and more impatient with the political system.
“Next Thursday TDs will be voting on a Taoiseach for a third time and I think if we fail to elect a Taoiseach next Thursday, I think the country will start to get very impatient.
“So we are conscious of that, we are working night and day to try and put a government together that will solve people’s problems and will last.”
Mr Coveney said the party would now have to look at other alternatives and “haven’t ruled out a minority government” with Independent TDs.
But he hinted that this arrangement would still need input from Fianna Fáil.
“I think it’s very difficult to ask Independents to sign up to being part of a minority government with Fine Gael unless there was some arrangement with opposition parties to ensure that that government would have stability and authority,” said Mr Coveney.
He said it was still the view of the party that a majority government is “the best option for Ireland”. But he added: “Fianna Fáil has rejected that so of course Fine Gael as the largest party will now look at alternatives to that, we have already been doing that at length and of course we will continue to discuss with Independents and other parties how we might do that.”
After Mr Kenny’s 10-minute talk with Mr Martin yesterday afternoon, Fine Gael ministers held a separate meeting to mull over the fall-out of the rejection.
A senior Fine Gael source said ministers were “disappointed but not surprised” with Mr Martin’s outright objection to a partnership government.
Earlier in the day, Fine Gael parliamentary party members met for several hours during which Mr Kenny’s proposal for a partnership government was widely supported.
Acting Arts Minister Heather Humphreys said the party had resolutely supported Mr Kenny’s offer to Fianna Fail.
“The public have told us to get on with it, so that’s what we are doing,” she said.
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