It’s good to talk: Micheál Martin makes the first move

It was the day when the partners-in-denial finally accepted that they need each other.

Although there was some coyness, careful choreography and well-packaged phrasing when it came to who actually picked up the phone first; it was a relief to many that the call had finally taken place.

It must have felt like someone opened a window in the stifling negotiation room when Taoiseach Enda Kenny informed the assembled crew of 15 Independents — who have been locked into talks for three solid days — that he had “reached out” to Micheál Martin.

However, afterwards one of those involved in discussions reflected Mr Kenny had “packaged his words very carefully”.

The phrase ‘picking up the phone’ was never used, indeed the word ‘phone’ wasn’t even mentioned — perhaps it was smoke signals that got the message through — and no indication of who was first to make that all-important call.

But the main thing was that the two men had left aside the previous five years of spats across the chamber of Leinster House — not to mention the even bigger white elephant of the Civil War — to rekindle or re-examine their relationship.

There was no mincing of words, however, with Mr Martin, who was proud to admit to reporters that he had made the first move.

“Just before lunchtime I rang the Taoiseach,” Mr Martin announced on the plinth of Leinster House.

It later emerged that after 20 minutes of talking both men agreed that they should do this more often.

Mr Kenny, upon reflection and perhaps a bit more smitten than Mr Martin, decided that today would be as good a day as any to continue on developing the budding friendship with another call or meeting.

There followed another flutter of contact — was it through text or by phone? Again no-one could decide or agree — and the idea of another chin-wag this week was shot down.

Despite picking up the phone first the Fianna Fáil leader said he would not be talking again until after Wednesday when the Dáil resumes and his discussions with Independent TDs are concluded.

And although both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael easily have enough numbers to go into government together, power now clearly lies in the hands of the 15 Independent TDs who have been involved in talks with Fine Gael for most of this week and who will speak with the other main party on Monday and Tuesday.

Independents and the smaller parties are in control of the situation and they know it.

The relentless pressure they placed on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to open up discussions finally worked yesterday and they now hold the balance of power when it comes to the formation of a minority government.

Both of the main parties are now anxious to gain their support with Fine Gael talking about “partnership government” and Fianna Fáil promising a number of ministerial positions to those who back them up.

This is why Mr Martin yesterday had to turn down an invitation from Mr Kenny and put the relationship on ice until next week.

A senior Fianna Fáil source said there would be no point in talking before Wednesday as “depending on what happens we could have two very different conversations”.

Depending on what way the Independents vote — if they decide to cast a ballot at all — could provide one party with the upper hand.

“Clearly whoever emerges from the process on Wednesday is in control,” the Fianna Fáil source said.

But the bunch of naughty children that make up the Independents and ranges from Tipperary’s Mattie McGrath, to former senator Katherine Zappone, south-side Shane Ross and the Healy-Rae party could also decide to pull out at any stage.

And what better time to do so than after the parents have stopped bickering and have finally rekindled their partnership.

However, a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is not an option and some of the Independents would have to stay on side to form some sort of minority government.

Last night Mr Kenny was sitting by the phone as a Fine Gael spokesperson confirmed he was still available to meet Fianna Fáil today.

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