Political ‘bed-hopping’ continues as Fine Gael and Labour get flirty again

“What a tangled web we weave...” wrote Walter Scott, in his 1808 poem ‘Marmion’.

Or was it Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, or Michéal Martin, this weekend? Given the goings-on in the Dáil, it’s difficult to be sure.

Over the past 48 hours, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have attempted to out-manoeuvre each other, yet again, by stacking the minority government decks in their favour.

However, while the two big beasts of Irish politics are the real players at the table, Labour is playing its own internal game in the wings.

Since Saturday morning, all talk has been focussed on an apparent decision by Fine Gael and Labour to jump back into each others arms, and it is central to all three parties’ current political plots.

On Friday, Fine Gael figures let it be known that they were keen to form a ‘new’ coalition with Labour, despite the duo being roundly trounced in the election, losing a combined 56 seats.

The move was a double-edged attempt to better-protect Mr Kenny’s party from a likely, future Fianna Fáil opposition attack, while also reminding Independents — who, strangely, were the subject of a critical leak yesterday, which noted their €13bn worth of ‘demands’ — that they are not Fine Gael’s only suitor.

However, while the plan makes sense — a 57-seat, two-party coalition, backed up by a small number of Independents is easier to control — it inadvertently set in train a weekend of drama. February’s “new politics” buzzwords have already been binned, it seems.

Political ‘bed-hopping’ continues as Fine Gael and Labour get flirty again

Fine Gael’s mooted idea appealed to Labour’s Joan Burton and Alan Kelly, who were said to be open to the concept on Saturday.

But the fact that neither would have to face an automatic leadership challenge, triggered by the party’s constitution on leaving government, was not lost on opponents, either.

The rumoured move — which was yesterday attacked by a series of ex-TDs, with current ones noticeably quieter — would have to be passed by a highly sceptical, grassroots national conference. And while unlikely, given the personal and party interests at stake — re-entering government would ensure Labour’s voice is not drowned out in opposition — the risky strategy may not disappear just yet.

What the array of would-be ministerial Independents make of it all is anyone’s guess, although John Halligan and Michael Collins said, last night, that they would not be pushed out by any deal.

Fianna Fáil’s view is clearer. Yesterday, Mr Martin said he had no right to “dictate” Fine Gael’s partners. Or, to translate: ‘if our rivals want to provoke the anger of an electorate which thought it voted them out, be my guest’.

With another chapter being written, as negotiations begin anew today, expect the increasingly tangled plot to thicken.

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