Following Mr Kenny’s third defeat in the Dáil yesterday, a Fine Gael minority government is the sole option left on the table after Fianna Fáil conceded that it cannot form an administration.
Fine Gael sources last night signalled that an expected vote on Wednesday could be deferred should sufficient progress be made.
Mr Kenny was defeated by 77 votes to 52, with his nomination supported by all 50 Fine Gael TDs, Michael Lowry, and, for the first time, Dublin South-West TD Katherine Zappone.
The Irish Examiner has learned that eight Independent TDs had been willing to support Micheál Martin’s nomination before Fianna Fáil’s “put up or shut up” threat on Wednesday night.
Such was the anger among Independents that they have withdrawn from talks and have called on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to agree a platform upon which a government can be formed.
Mr Kenny and Mr Martin will meet this morning to establish rules for talks, but it is clear that relations between the parties are at a low point.
Fianna Fáil TD Charlie McConalogue said the “time had come to move on” and that his party would seek to facilitate a Fine Gael minority government.
Mr Martin had criticised Fine Gael’s behaviour in recent days around talks between the parties, and made pointed criticisms of Irish Water. This was in response to a front-page story in the Irish Examiner this week, in which it was suggested that Fine Gael was willing to compromise on the future of water charges and Irish Water in order to seal a deal.
Fine Gael believes it needs the support of at least 60 TDs and has reached out to smaller parties, including its former coalition partner Labour. It believes it will need the votes of at least another eight TDs to form a stable minority government.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: “We need to get to about 60 to be viable, we will need to bring Independents and maybe other parties on board to make that a viable and stable government that can start to do the business of government which has now been suspended for the best part of 10 weeks.
“It is important from our point of view that we can still discuss the composition of the next government with [Independents] and with other parties too, Labour, Greens, potentially the Social Democrats, because the support of Fianna Fáil, or Fianna Fáil abstaining, isn’t enough,” Mr Varadkar told RTÉ’s Six One news.
Ms Zappone’s decision to support Mr Kenny was praised by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who called on other Independents to take a risk.
Within minutes of losing the Dáil vote, Mr Kenny committed to continuing in office until a government is formed. He also issued a fresh invitation to Mr Martin to meet to discuss how talks between the two sides could continue.
The Fianna Fáil leader was rejected by the Dáil in his bid to be elected taoiseach by 91 votes to 43.
Before the vote, Independent Alliance TD Shane Ross called for Fine Gael to deal with Fianna Fáil on a basis where there is “parity of esteem”.
Mr Kenny said parity exists. This was rejected by Mr Martin and several Fianna Fáil TDs.
Earlier, 14 Independents announced their intention to abstain from the vote for taoiseach. They also said they were stepping back from talks with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil until they agree a reciprocal agreement “that they will give mutual support to each other, in the event of either party leader becoming taoiseach in a minority government”.
However, it emerged last night that Fianna Fáil will not agree to back a Fine Gael-led minority government unless Mr Kenny’s party secures the support of at least seven non-party TDs.
Fianna Fáil’s TDs and senators agreed to the move at a lengthy parliamentary party meeting, saying it will be impossible to “facilitate” a minority government that has the support of fewer than 58 TDs.
The decision was made as Fianna Fáil members also agreed to back Mr Martin’s stance that a Fine Gael-led minority government is now the only option to prevent a second election.
The party said it will “facilitate” such a government with discussion on a “bland” written document. It agreed that this would not include a commitment as to how long the government is to last. Fianna Fáil insisted that this step is different to “supporting” Fine Gael.
A spokesperson said: “Tonight’s meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party agreed that its negotiating team will reconvene talks with Fine Gael with a view to facilitating the establishment of a Fine Gael-led minority government.”