Independents are set to come under mounting pressure over the coming days to decide who they will support to form a government, after Micheál Martin and Enda Kenny finally agreed to hold talks after the next Dáil taoiseach nomination vote.
Exactly five weeks on from the election, the Fianna Fáil leader was forced to contact the leader of Fine Gael after the Irish Examiner reported yesterday that Mr Kenny was considering cancelling next Wednesday’s Dáil taoiseach nomination vote as it would produce no clear winner.
Speaking to reporters in Leinster House, Mr Martin said that, during the 20-minute conversation, Mr Kenny confirmed the vote would take place as scheduled before Mr Martin said the pair should meet afterwards to decide on how to move forward.
“We both agreed we would engage in the aftermath of that, and following conclusions on Wednesday,” he said.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were last night in disagreement over who first brought up the subject of talks as they attempted to take control of a key stage in the negotiations narrative, with Fine Gael saying its offer to meet today or this weekend still stands.
However, the acceptance by the largest parties that talks are imminent remains a major step towards potentially finding a solution to the Dáil stalemate.
In addition, it has increased pressure on Independents involved in weeks of discussions to now make a decision on who they will support as whichever party has more backing in Wednesday’s Dáil vote will have the upper hand in the race to form a minority government.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night a senior Fianna Fáil figure said “depending on what happens [on Wednesday] we could have two very different conversations” and that Independents are key to the balance of the upcoming major party talks.
However, while Mr Martin declined to tell Independents to decide what they will do — telling reporters yesterday “that might be the fastest way of losing a vote” — the senior source said the party is growing frustrated that Independents “want us to provide cover for them” by doing a deal with Fine Gael and that this must now be addressed.
With Fianna Fáil set to hold round-table talks with six TDs from the Independent Alliance, the five loosely linked rural TDs group, the Healy-Rae brothers, Katherine Zappone, and Maureen O’Sullivan on Monday and Tuesday, Fine Gael is also likely to pressure Independents into deciding how they will vote in meetings today.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan will lead a key session on the economy in the meetings today, which many of the Independents believed could be pivotal in their decision making, after separate discussions yesterday saw promises to build 80 additional care centres nationwide and increase the GP rural practice allowance among other currently un-costed deals.
Speaking yesterday, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said his party will continue to work “throughout the weekend” in a bid to win over support and that the meetings should result in “some kind of credibility”.
However, responding to the Irish Examiner last night after suggestions as many as 14 of the 15 Independent TDs currently involved in talks with Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil want the parties to meet this weekend — an issue Fianna Fáil say will not happen and which would reduce pressure on the Independents themselves — a number of the unaligned TDs said they will leave any decision on who they will back on Wednesday until the 11th hour.
Entering talks at Government Buildings earlier in the day, Mattie McGrath — a member of the loosely aligned five-strong rural Independents group — said he wants talks between the major parties sooner than later, claiming they were trying to “box us in”.
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