The first signs of a new government emerged last night as Enda Kenny made an historic offer to Micheál Martin of an “equal partnership” in power.
The first face-to-face talks between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil leaders came after the Dáil again failed to elect a taoiseach and postponed the next vote until next Thursday.
But in a significant development last night, Mr Kenny made an historic offer of forming a government to Mr Martin involving a coalition between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Independents. He also told Mr Martin that a minority government “would not work”, a Fianna Fáil spokesman confirmed.
Mr Kenny emphasised the need to create a “stable government”, sources said.
In response, Mr Martin said he would have to refer the matter to the parliamentary party, which takes place today. The offer though could be rejected by some party figures, who have taken a strong position on not working with Fine Gael in government.
The 45-minute meeting avoided specific detail, said sources familiar with the talks, and involved just the two leaders and one note taker.
But while Mr Kenny made the offer with the full backing of his ministers, there was no discussion about the possibility of revolving the position of taoiseach.
The race is now on to agree terms for a government over the next week, to stave off the risk of another general election having to be called.
It was confirmed yesterday the Department of Environment has placed an order for four million polling information cards, in case a snap election is called.
The next Dáil vote for taoiseach will take place next Thursday, but Independent TDs in talks are becoming “frustrated” at the slow progress.
The latest Dáil taoiseach nomination vote had earlier as expected seen none of the three candidates receive enough backing to assume office.
Mr Kenny lost by 51 votes to 81 and Mr Martin by 43 votes to 95, with neither gaining more support from Independents despite a fortnight of detailed talks.
After AAA-PBP candidate Ruth Coppinger received just 10 votes, the Dáil agreed to reconvene next Thursday.
[tmigcap=AAA-PBP’s Ruth Coppinger]RuthCoppinger140316_large.jpg[/timgcap]
With the stalemate forcing Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to begin talks, Mr Kenny said he will now be “as flexible and as generous as possible” in negotiations with Mr Martin.
But he added: “While I cannot state at present that this will bring a conclusion with a government at the end of a week or 10 days, for my part and that of my party, we will work diligently in this regard.”
Mr Martin noted that up to a third of governments in Europe since 1945 have had minority support in parliament.
The first test for the talks will come today when the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party will be asked for their views on negotiations, including the significant offer made by Mr Kenny.
In a sign of the tense nature of what is to come, though, Mr Martin yesterday accused the outgoing Government in the Dáil of withholding crucial details about spending before the election.
Mr Martin’s party has put its stance on Irish Water front and centre in its negotiations document which was given to Independents yesterday, but Fine Gael did not mention it once in its 122-page comparative report.
Other differences are apparent on issues such as the future of the universal social charge, health services, and the provision of houses by Nama.
Sources in both parties say the negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil could take at least two weeks. An agenda is expected to be set out today involving negotiation teams.
However, if no significant progress is made before next week’s third Taoiseach vote in the Dáil, questions will be raised about the possibility of another general election being called.
Meanwhile, Labour are scrambling to pick up greater speaking rights in the new Dáil if planned reforms take hold. The party is examining a potential alliance with the Greens and Social Democrats so a 12-TD group is second from the top when it comes to Dáil speaking time.
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