Party leaders brazenly cosy up

Shamelessly, both party leaders saddled up beside each other at Rising commemorations yesterday and gave that familiar smirk, a chuckle, and posed while a tricolour fluttered behind their heads.

Tomorrow marks 60 days since voters went to the polls and since a caretaker government took over. Since then, a plethora of politicians have been testing the waters on government options, predicting success at some moments but ultimately concluding long days with successive disappointments.

It’s been a tiresome, drawn out, and at times cynical affair, with arch rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil now epitomising the worn image of tribal politicians refusing to do a deal in the national interests.

There’s concern about mental health funds being raided, the homelessness and housing crises continue, and doubts exist about how suspended sentences are imposed after a court ruling. If that’s not enough, this island faces a fresh challenge with the Brexit vote due in eight weeks.

So it must have been with some disregard or even stupidity that acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin posed and joked with each other at 1916 celebrations in Arbour Hill yesterday afternoon.

Marking the historic moment, where people died for the country’s freedom to rule itself, the leaders were accompanied by members of the judiciary and relatives of the volunteers. Nonetheless, both saw fit to grin and joke as they posed for photographers. It would lead cynics to suggest that this is a big game, that negotiations aren’t that fraught, and that possibly, maybe, a deal for government was agreed days ago and a last-minute push by the two men and their negotiation teams is now being staged for show.

Otherwise, if they get along so well, why can’t the two Civil War parties bury their differences on water charges?

This is the main stumbling block between them agreeing a minority government deal. At least, that is what the media, voters, and the nation are being told. Positions hardened even more yesterday ahead of a possible resumption of talks today.

Acting Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan was not for turning: “The principle of paying for charges must remain.”

However, Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley was adamant, saying Fine Gael had to agree to a “very significant compromise” on water if his party facilitates a minority government.

These were mixed messages at RTÉ’s studios compared to the smiles and posing of the respective leaders at the 1916 Rising commemoration at Arbour Hill.

Mr Martin even suggested a resolution could be agreed “early next week”. But party sources on both sides played this down, saying there were still too many obstacles.

On top of water, there are said to still be differences on rent supplement, childcare subsidies, and a housing programme.

What frustrates senior Fine Gael figures is that their opponents simply wont’t relent on their demands.

“We’re not giving up, this is just going to take longer. But it’s 50/50 now,” said a source. One frustrated minister last night summed it up: “Fianna Fáil seem to want us in office to implement their policies and dismantle our own.”

However, amid open suggestions that another election could be well looming if a way forward is not agreed in the coming days, Sinn Féin yesterday stepped into the breach. Party leader Gerry Adams, after presiding over the party’s weekend ard fheis, said Sinn Féin’s door was open for talks. His surprise comments were particularly aimed at Fianna Fáil and could now put fresh pressure on Micheál Martin to do a deal with Enda Kenny or instead face calls to alternatively enter negotiations with Sinn Féin.

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