Fiachra Ó Cionnaith answers all the questions you may have about the short meeting between Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin and what the rejected offer was all about.
Q: What just happened?
A: As the past 24 hours have shown, a day is a long time in politics, never mind a week.
On Wednesday evening, after a week of anticipation and 40 days and nights on from the February 26 general election, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin finally sat down to talk government formation.
The 45-minute meeting was described as “historic” by Fine Gael officials as it offered a “partnership” government between the two Civil War adversaries.
However, during a four-hour parliamentary party meeting yesterday Fianna Fáil turned it down, insisting they do not believe it will work and that they want to return to minority government talks with Independents.
Mr Martin told Mr Kenny of the decision in a terse 10-minute meeting yesterday, with both men blaming each other’s narrow focus on party needs for the ongoing stand-off.
Q What were the nuts and bolts of the now rejected offer?
A: An equal breakdown of ministerial positions, a potential rotating taoiseach scenario, and other ground-breaking matters — to also be shared by some Independents — were part of the offer.
Several Fine Gael sources yesterday said in theory everything was on the table and that the initial offer was effectively opening the door to other more detailed options.
However, senior ministers such as acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald appeared less than sure about what this meant in practice, repeatedly clinging to phrases such as “historic” and “partnership” when asked during an RTÉ interview about the actual nuts and bolts of the potential deal.
Q Why did Fianna Fáil turn the deal down? Isn’t a return to power exactly what they want?
A: Officially, Fianna Fáil turned the deal down because it was not genuine and, to use Mr Martin’s own words, a government with a large majority is not in Ireland’s best interests.
But in reality, self-centred party survival has more than a little to do with it too.
If Fianna Fáil went into power directly with Fine Gael, it would leave them vulnerable on two fronts: Helping an unpopular Mr Kenny cling onto power and leaving the main opposition position open to Sinn Féin.
While the carrot of power — apparently it’s a drug to certain politicians — and the return of what Willie O’Dea said were the “Mercs and perks” of ministerial office was tempting, if Fianna Fáil took up the offer, they risked being painted as breaking their election promises before even trying out those ministerial seats.
Q Why did Fine Gael offer the deal? Isn’t Fianna Fáil’s return to power exactly what they don’t want?
A: Again officially, because they want stable government and have listened to the masses.
But in reality, self-centred party survival has played just as central a role in this decision too.
If a partnership government worked, Fine Gael would have been seen as the responsible party calmly bringing Ireland through a storm of its own making.
It would also have tied in an intense rival while causing it serious grass-roots difficulties.
Some commentators have also suggested that Fine Gael offered a — on paper — too good to turn down deal, knowing it would be turned down, a situation which would risk portraying Fianna Fáil as being unreasonable and causing a second election.
Politicians, of course, are never this cynical.
Q What happens now?
A: Fine Gael is planning to let the offer “sit for a bit” in a bid to put Fianna Fáil under fresh pressure.
Fianna Fáil is taking a different tactic, reaching out again to Independents and smaller parties as they try to gain the upper hand before next Thursday’s now crucial Dáil taoiseach nomination vote.
The party may also decide to abstain next Thursday, allowing Fine Gael to form a weak minority government that is unlikely to last.
It’s the longest of long-shots, but don’t be surprised if Mr Kenny and Mr Martin make further contact behind the scenes about a possible minority government deal.
Q And if nothing changes by Thursday?
A: It is not quite make or break — yet — but another Dáil vote stalemate would increase the now real risk of a second election.
The rumour mill says to keep May 20 or 27 free, but the rumour mill has been wrong before.
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