Back to the polls... An election in the summer looks likely

An election at the beginning of the summer looks the most likely scenario as the two main parties circle each other with suspicion, writes Daniel McConnell

Back to the polls... An election in the summer looks likely

FRIDAY, May 20 appears to be the date.

Yes, it seems that many of our newly elected TDs are already consigned to the fact that they will have to face the people again in a second General Election.

“I just don’t see how anything else can happen at this stage, given our refusal to do a deal with Fine Gael,” is how one senior Fianna Fáil TD put it.

Some in Fine Gael agree.

“It is a real chance that we will have to go back, but at this stage we are still working to try and stay in office,” one minister said to me.

As acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny spent most of his week in Washington DC and Brussels, talks with independents and smaller parties like the Greens went on with “good progress” being made. The Independent Alliance have been in talks with both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and expect some movement by the end of next week from Kenny.

Sources close to the process have said Fine Gael’s engagement with the alliance has been more focused and robust than their talks with Fianna Fáil.

While they are still upbeat and insist no decisions have been taken, some in Fianna Fáil fear that Independents are now leaning towards hedging their bets in terms of backing either Kenny or Martin for taoiseach in a vote in the Dáil on April 6.

Enda Kenny presents a bowl of shamrock to US President Barack Obama: Talks with smaller parties and Independent TDs continued while the Taoiseach was away.
Enda Kenny presents a bowl of shamrock to US President Barack Obama: Talks with smaller parties and Independent TDs continued while the Taoiseach was away.

Fianna Fáil feel the Independents are very aware going into negotiations that they have to pick the winning side.

Micheál Martin’s party feel some of the Independents would probably favour abstaining from the vote rather than taking a punt on the wrong party.

“Even if we got the best deal possible out of Fine Gael, how can we vote for Kenny on April 6? We’d all be murdered in our constituencies if we did. But we’d also have a hard time voting for Martin given his party’s role in bringing down the country. So it is a real dilemma,” said one alliance member.

“But they would also want maybe one or two of us, at the Cabinet table in some shape or form. They’d need it and it would also neutralise us a bit,” said the alliance member.

While several leading Independent TDs have said they would instinctively prefer to vote for the Fianna Fáil leader over Kenny, there is a sense that all of this horse trading will amount to very little.

But the parties are certainly appear willing to concede a lot of ground including offering up seats at the cabinet table, and detailed talks have begun.

Last week, Fine Gael negotiators met a number of Independents, including a group of five rural TDs and the three rural members of the Independent Alliance.

Party ministers reported to the taoiseach on the progress of the talks at a meeting in Government Buildings on Wednesday night after he returned home from Washington.

Progress of the talks will be revealed to a meeting of the full parliamentary party when the Dáil meets on Tuesday.

Among the rural Independent TDs being courted by Fine Gael are Denis Naughten, Noel Grealish, Mattie McGrath, as well as first-time TDs Michael Collins and Michael Harty. Even though they are still involved in such detailed talks, most Independents have said that some sort of arrangement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will be required to secure any minority government.

Lacking the resources and infrastructure of the political parties, many Independents would be especially disadvantaged by another election.

And with the Labour Party now set to abstain from any vote on April 6, unless some form of a deal between the two largest parties happens, no government can be formed and we will be into a second election.

Labour TD Willie Penrose rejected suggestions of voting for Micheál Martin for taoiseach.

“Our focus now is on rebuilding the party. We will abstain on April 6,” Mr Penrose told Irish Independent journalist Niall O’Connor.

A spokesman for Tánaiste Joan Burton added: “We are prepared to engage in talks if they arise, but we have made very clear we won’t be returning to government as we didn’t receive a mandate to do so. For that reason, we believe the most important talks now are those between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil with a view to providing stable government.”

Labour leader Joan Burton may be Tánaiste for now, but she has ruled her party out of going back into government, saying they did not receive a mandate to do so.
Labour leader Joan Burton may be Tánaiste for now, but she has ruled her party out of going back into government, saying they did not receive a mandate to do so.

Politicians from all sides have said they don’t want to have to go through the physical and emotional trauma of another campaign so soon after the last one, but there is an increasing acceptance that no one is willing to make the leap of faith necessary to form a Government.

With Labour abstaining, Kenny has the support of his own party of 50 TDs, plus Michael Lowry.

As things stand, Martin only has the 43 votes of his own party, with no one else yet pledging support for him.

With the three Social Democrats TDs of Roisin Shortall, Stephen Donnelly, and Catherine Murphy refusing to back either Kenny or Martin, the fight for the remaining 54 votes (Sinn Fein, the Greens, Independents and Others) will continue, but very few of those 54 are up for grabs. There appears to be no scenario where Sinn Fein or the hard-left groupings could support Kenny or Martin for Taoiseach.

There is a feeling that Fianna Fáil are far more ready to go into power with Fine Gael than their public statements would suggest.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with newly elected party TDs. Some leading Independent TDs have said they would instinctively vote for Fianna Fáil over Fine Gael.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with newly elected party TDs. Some leading Independent TDs have said they would instinctively vote for Fianna Fáil over Fine Gael.

Some have said that they would need or want some form of a public request from President Michael D Higgins to explore the options of forming a Government to give them the sufficient political cover to renounce what they have said.

Come April 6, Fine Gael believe Kenny will still be ahead of Martin in terms of the vote for Taoiseach. They think this will put Kenny in a strong position to form a minority government with cabinet positions going to Independents and small party representatives. There is an acceptance on both sides that Fine Gael would still require the co-operation of Fianna Fáil to ensure that a minority administration was viable over the medium term.

This is acknowledged by senior sources in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, though no contacts between the big two parties are anticipated until negotiations with the Independents run their course.

In the absence of such a deal, a second election appears to be the only viable option.

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