Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone has put Fianna Fáil and other opposition parties on red alert by saying she will be “pragmatic” and cut a deal with any party that has enough seats to form a government after the next general election.
The Independent TD contradicted other Independent cabinet colleagues who have indicated they are only thinking about a second term with Fine Gael, as repeated opinion polls predict both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are likely to need the support of Independents.
In a detailed interview with the Irish Examiner — in which she rejected rumours the tragic passing of her wife, Ann Louise Gilligan, last June could lead to her leaving politics — Ms Zappone said if re-elected she will speak with all parties.
Confirming this would include Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and any other party with enough seats, she added that while the current coalition was working she would not be limited to existing deals.
“First of all, I am going to run again. That’s what I’d love to do, and depending on how the numbers fall and if I am privileged enough to be elected, I am open to discussing with whoever has the most numbers about the formation of government.
“That’s what I did uring the post-February 2016 general election negotiations, that’s what I did as an Independent on the doorstep. I am going to be pragmatic and be willing to discuss with whoever has the most numbers, but I can promise I will bring my progressive perspective to bear on that,” she said.
Ms Zappone’s comments are in contrast to those made by Independent Alliance TDs Shane Ross and Finian McGrath, who in recent days have told newspapers they are in favour of a second term in office with Fine Gael. They also believe the current Government can potentially last a full term.
Although not ruling out remaining with Fine Gael, her openness to a potential alternative deal also contradicts the view of fellow unaligned Independent minister Denis Naughten, who at the weekend said he was keen to continue the current coalition.
While it is not unusual for an Independent member of government or a minority coalition member to hint at switching sides in order to strengthen their hand both before and after a potential election, Ms Zappone’s comments carry greater weight.
This is because while opinion polls show Fine Gael increasing its lead over Fianna Fáil, neither party is likely to come close to gaining an overall majority.
As such, it is expected that any government after the next election will have to be a coalition of a major party and either smaller parties or Independents, alongside a potential repeat of the confidence and supply deal.
The alternative — either Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil joining forces in a grand coalition, or either party dealing with Sinn Féin — has been repeatedly ruled out by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin, meaning Independent demands may be key in the next government formation negotiations.
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll taken in early December, just after both Frances Fitzgerald’s resignation and the Brexit deal talks, put Fine Gael on 36% and Fianna Fáil on 25% when undecided voters were excluded.
However, a separate Sunday Business Post/Red C poll conducted two weeks earlier in late November put Fine Gael on 27%, down 2%, and Fianna Fáil on 26%, up 1%, indicating the close nature of support before constituency and proportional representation issues are taken into account.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved