Relations between Fine Gael and Independent ministers are said to be “severely strained” just three weeks into the new Government.
Six ministers on both sides of the Government, speaking to the Irish Examiner, have confirmed that relationships between Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s ministers and the Independents are in a very poor state.
“Relations are not good, severely strained in fact. They don’t like us and we don’t like them. So it is not a good place,” one minister said.
It is understood significant “teething issues” between the two sides have emerged.
These include refusal to agree on key staff appointments, the ill-treatment of Independent ministers, difficulties in exchanging information, and the adding of three Fine Gael junior ministers behind the backs of the Independents.
Most recently, Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar’s “slapping down” in the Dáil of Communications Minister Denis Naughten’s proposal to link child benefit to school attendance has caused much anger in the Independent ranks.
These overt tensions are on top of a general fear around the instability of the arrangement underpinning the Coalition, given it is reliant on Fianna Fáil support and has a working majority of just one vote in the Dáil.
Specifically, Fine Gael ministers stand accused of being “arrogant” towards their coalition partners, while in return, several Fine Gael ministers have spoken of their irritation in having to deal with people who are diametrically opposed to them.
“There is absolutely no love for each other in the Cabinet room. It is business- like. We are not going for pints with them or anything. But we are trying to make it work, but it is a struggle,” said another minister.
There remains considerable anger among the Independent ranks as to the treatment of super junior ministers Finian McGrath and John Halligan by their Fine Gael counterparts in relation to their opposition to water charges.
Mr Halligan recently gave voice to his anger, telling Fine Gael ministers to “shut their mouths” and leave them alone.
However, one Independent minister described the unease between the sides as being as much the fault of Independents as Fine Gael.
“It is not out of malice, there are bedding-down issues. But that is as much our fault as it is Fine Gael’s side. There is some naivety on our side of the fence,” the minister said.
While there is considerable animosity towards Mr Kenny, several Independent ministers have spoken warmly about the role Finance Minister Michael Noonan has played in securing their agreement, and also in keeping them at the table.
One Independent Alliance minister said that, had it not been for the skills of Mr Noonan, no deal would have been reached and the country would have been forced into a second election.
“Noonan was brilliant, terrific. He was compassionate to our positions and our concerns. The rest of them were dreadful. Leo was dreadfully arrogant in his dealing with us and nothing has changed,” the minister said.
“We were running into roadblocks and he managed to ease our souls on many fronts and his willingness to go to the death with Michael Fitzmaurice over turf showed us we could do business with him.”
Several Fine Gael ministers have singled out Transport Minister Shane Ross and Mr Halligan for criticism, saying Mr Ross’ description of the Taoiseach as a “political corpse” was deeply hurtful.
They have accused Mr Halligan of being “too flaky and diva-esque”, and said they believe the Waterford TD will find some reason to pull out of office before too long.
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