The prospect of a Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael grand coalition is even closer, with Micheál Martin refusing to rule out the arrangement after the next general election.
While the Fianna Fáil leader wants to lead the next Government, he has left open the possibility of forming a grand coalition with Fine Gael.
In a significant shift, Mr Martin has told the Irish Examiner he “hasn’t ruled anything in or out” after the next general election.
It comes after Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes, who was the party’s 2016 director of elections, told the MacGill Summer School that a grand coalition between his party and Fianna Fáil is the only way forward after the next election to secure a stable five-year administration.
In an interview with this paper, Mr Martin categorically ruled out doing a deal with Sinn Féin, claiming there are issues with “their whole approach to politics”.
“As far as we are concerned, we want to increase the number of seats we have — we have 45 at the moment —and I think the situation [is that] there could be other coalition governments that could be available after the next election, so let’s not rule anything in or out at this particular point in time, other than I have made it very clear on the Sinn Féin option.”
Asked directly whether he agreed with Mr Hayes’ Glenties speech, he said: “We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out in terms of we want to lead the next government, that’s our position and we are impatient with the lack of progress at the moment, we think on the two big issues of housing and health, the Government has failed.”
While remaining open to the possibility of joining forces in government with Fine Gael in the near future, he did warn that such an arrangement would allow Sinn Féin to grow and become the largest party in opposition — a factor which would have to be considered before entering any grand coalition.
“We have made the point that a grand coalition opens up the opportunity for Sinn Féin and other people and I think the centre ground of Irish politics could be irreparably damaged in such a scenario and that has to be factored in as well.”
This is a significant watering down of the hardline stance by Mr Martin during government formation talks lat year, when he refused a “partnership government” model proposed by then taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The deal would have meant a rotating Taoiseach and ministerial positions being split across both parties and with some of the Independents.
Mr Martin was cautious against fully setting out his stall ahead of any election as last year’s vote had proved that predicting outcomes is now almost impossible.
“I was blue in the face in studios for about a year saying ‘It’s not about Fianna Fáil just propping up Fine Gael’, which every commentator, every interviewer, was saying to me and they got it wrong.
“The fact is that the result was completely different to what they had predicted.
“Something similar could happen at the next election so we can’t pre-empt what will happen, we don’t know what support — there is some evidence the two parties may consolidate, they may improve, they may not — so it’s wide open.”
Pressed again on the possibility of a grand coalition with Fine Gael, he said: “We haven’t got to that stage. We want to go into government, we want to lead the next government, but obviously that depends on the level of support we get, we couldn’t go into government this time we didn’t get the support, small parties and Independents didn’t support us.”
While Mr Martin said he is confident Budget 2018 can be passed in October, he was more ambiguous about the following year which comes under three-budget promise in the confidence and supply agreement.
“Obviously given politics and the nature of it, we will take one budget at a time.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved