A marathon of government formation talks begins tomorrow, with all three parties keen to both keep proceedings under wraps and navigate unrest at grassroots level.
Sources close to the talks say that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s wish that there not be a "running commentary" on the talks is being used as a "trust-building exercise" between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
Negotiations began formally on Thursday between the parties, with a broad schedule agreed which will see the deputy leader of each - Fine Gael’’s Simon Coveney, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary and the Greens’ Catherine Martin - meeting together while specific areas of a programme for government are discussed by members of the negotiating teams. Negotiators will meet on most days over the coming weeks, including weekends, it is understood as the urgency to form a government grows.
All three parties issued a statement on Thursday which said the talks would be confidential, with sources saying this is to create trust between parties and "stop solo runs" from individuals. It is understood that this commitment is being taken seriously, though some party insiders say it may not last the duration of lengthy and complex talks.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has warned his TDs and senators against speaking to journalists about the government formation talks, as the media only want to “create stories” about “conflict”. He told last week’’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting that he, Michéal Martin and Eamon Ryan had agreed there would be "no running commentary" on the negotiations and he asked members of the parliamentary party to agree to this too.
He added that there was nothing “the media wanted more” than to make a story and that story would have "conflict" at its centre.
The success of the talks is put by some current cabinet members at "around 50/50" but challenges await even if they are. All three parties will need to pass a deal by their members, with all three facing internal resistance. However, Fine Gael’’s vote on the deal would be weighted, with 50% of the poll going to its parliamentary party and as yet, there is no vocal opposition among TDs, Senators and MEPs.
Fianna Fáil would either need to hold an Árd Fhéis or have a two-thirds majority on its National Executive change its current rules. Party insiders say that the ban on mass gatherings makes the latter easier to do, but would not be popular among certain grassroots elements. A postal vote has been discussed, though the mechanics of one are unclear.
Green Party councillor Lorna Bogue told RTE’’s The Week In Politics that she did not believe the party’’s 3,000 members would approve a deal because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael "won’t give us a deal that will do what we’re asking", but party senator Pippa Hackett said that it was "a small percentage" of members who would oppose coalition. Sources within the party say that it is "a good bit more than that" and said that any programme for government would have to deliver a number of Green priorities to be passed.