Fine Gael seeks deal for ‘modified coalition’ with Fianna Fáil

Fine Gael is now seeking Fianna Fáil’s support for a “partnership government” or “modified coalition”, as a minority arrangement appeared to be ruled out.

The shift comes as the Irish Examiner understands that most, if not all, of the 15 Independent TDs currently in talks with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, are likely to abstain from the vote for taoiseach on Wednesday.

They feel a deal with either party is unlikely and many are unwilling to commit their support until talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil begin. While Fine Gael has also not given up on securing the support of the seven Labour TDs, senior party sources conceded last night that Wednesday’s vote will deliver “precious little movement” .

In the last Dáil vote, on March 10, acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny was seven votes ahead of Micheál Martin. Now, with the support of Independent TD Michael Lowry, Mr Kenny stands on 51 votes, while Mr Martin is on 43. It is expected Mr Kenny will speak to Mr Martin on Wednesday night to seek to begin talks.

Opinion within Fianna Fáil is shifting to the idea of a modified coalition, which would see some Independents in government as well. Such a deal would see a programme for government agreed, a 50:50 split in terms of cabinet seats, and a sharing of the role of taoiseach.

Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney says that while talks with the Independents are continuing, a deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is needed to form a government.

“Even if all 15 Independents were to commit to a partnership in government with Fine Gael, we are still only at 65, 14 short,” he says.

“So unless other parties are willing to be part of a coalition we are looking at a minority government for the first time. That means relying on parties in opposition for support on key votes or the government will fall shortly after starting.”

However, Mr Coveney says his party is wary about dealing with Fianna Fáil.

“The response from Fianna Fáil was blunt: Under no circumstances would they consider a coalition,” he says. “This has hardened opinion within Fine Gael against reaching out again.”

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen, writing in this paper today, says: “People who singularly failed to understand the mood of the public in the last five years... certainly did not anticipate the massive rejection of the last government at the polls.”

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