Independents hold 90-minute meeting with Fine Gael negotiators

Shane Ross

Potential kingmakers the Independent Alliance met with Fine Gael negotiator Simon Coveney and junior minister Simon Harris for 90 minutes last night as pressure builds over talks to form a government.

Alliance members Finian McGrath, Shane Ross, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and Sean Canney sought the meeting in Government Buildings after spending more than six hours examining previous proposals outlined by Fine Gael on what policies Enda Kenny’s party may introduce in power.

It is believed that, during the discussion, held between 7.30pm and 9pm, the group requested a detailed update on talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

They are believed to have outlined their response to Fine Gael’s potential government policies, saying any hope of their support is dependent on a number of issues being addressed.

Simon Coveney
Simon Coveney

It is understood the responses include guarantees over rent allowance and housing improvements, and a commitment to link business rate valuations to the size of stores in order to help protect smaller shopkeepers.

Other issues involve spreading new jobs to rural areas, a focus on hospital issues in Waterford, a new cystic fibrosis unit in Beaumont, and a review of closed wards in hospitals to address emergency department overcrowding.

Finian McGrath told the Irish Examiner yesterday the group continues to be entirely united on the issues, despite persistent rumours Fine Gael believes only five of the TDs are realistic options for a minority government.

While they have not decided which way to vote tomorrow, it is strongly believed the group will abstain on Mr Kenny’s and Micheál Martin’s nominations as taoiseach.

The separate five-strong rural TDs group of Mattie McGrath, Denis Naughten, Michael Collins, Noel Grealish, and Michael Harty are also keen to abstain, it is believed, despite growing suggestions of dissent within the ranks over whether Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil should be eventually backed.

Mattie McGrath said he believes tomorrow’s vote may be adjourned until next week, adding: “I think it’s leaning to an election, that’s how I see it.”

Mattie McGrath
Mattie McGrath

A number of other key Independents and smaller parties are continuing to play a key role in talks.

Unaligned Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae said he is keeping in close contact with a senior Fine Gael minister to stay informed of developments, describing the discussions as “anything but just ‘hello, how are you?’ ”.

The three-strong Social Democrats confirmed after a three-hour meeting yesterday they will not “favour one over the other” tomorrow due to the slow progress of talks, while Maureen O’Sullivan last night met her own team to discuss developments.

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