We have wasted enough time, it’s high time for the real talks to start

Patience is wearing thin among the public, says Political Editor Daniel McConnell
We have wasted enough time, it’s high time for the real talks to start

So today is the day we have all been waiting for, the day finally when Enda ‘Squatter Taoiseach’ Kenny and would-be Taoiseach Micheál Martin sit down together to see if they can form a Government.

Now the waiting is over, all that is left is another six weeks of torturous and tedious talks.

It is six weeks since the people have spoken and they and the media have so far remained patient to allow a Government be formed.

But that patience is wearing thin and one cannot escape the conclusion that the process has been delayed by Enda Kenny and Fine Gael for political advantage.

It is also hard to escape the conclusion that the two-week process of talks with the Independents has been a sham process, and today hopefully marks the beginning of the talks proper.

As I have maintained since election results day, the only viable option based on the numbers is some form of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal, coalition, or power-sharing arrangement. The reluctance to such a deal, particularly from within Fianna Fáil, has been well flagged and some of that is driven by a fear of allowing Sinn Féin become the main opposition party.

But such fears are, in my view, overstated, as the people chose only to make Sinn Féin the third largest party in the Dáil, and the party’s flip-flopping on Irish Water yesterday shows how far the party has yet to come.

Gerry Adams with Sinn Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald and other party members

Gerry Adams with Sinn Féin vice president Mary Lou McDonald and other party members

Last night, the Independents gave voice to how shambolic the process has been, dismissing the Fine Gael document as a “mere cut-and-paste job” of previous manifestos.

Devoid of detailed costings and timelines, ‘A New Partnership Government — A Foundation Document’, as it is called, is a shoddy return for two weeks of talks and is, frankly, an insult to the Irish people who have waited patiently for a Government to be formed.

So vague and aspirational in order to try and secure votes as many Independents as possible, it is virtually meaningless as precious little will ever see the light of day. This is because the vast majority of additional money (dare not use the phrase ‘fiscal space’) will be eaten up by an expected overrun the Department of Health.

Health officials told a meeting of Fianna Fáil and Independents yesterday that the expected overrun by the end of year will be at least €300m, which would leave just €200m for additional spending. This is because of new EU budget rules, which means the usual end-of-year bailouts so common in health, are not permitted anymore.

The report got short thrift from angry Fine Gael TDs who railed against their exclusion from the process, causing their parliamentary party meeting to stretch to more than three hours.

So, while Kenny and Martin will finally speak today, it is important to reflect on how badly served the people have been in the past six weeks.

The glacial pace of progress and the refusal of the two main leaders to speak properly before now ill becomes those who have claimed a desire for a new politics.

Today, both Kenny and Martin will be rejected by the Dáil as Taoiseach as expected, and after the two weeks of talks neither man will have even one additional supporter.

Now, as the talks are to begin, the thorny issue of Irish Water looms large, as Fianna Fáil have backed themselves into a corner from which it will be hard to emerge.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will finally start to have meaningful talks with Enda Kenny today

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will finally start to have meaningful talks with Enda Kenny today

Such explicit comments from the likes of Timmy Dooley, the Clare TD, yesterday means the chances of a second election have risen.

One acting minister speaking to me in the Dáil yesterday put the chances of another election at “50/50”.

The one bit of substantial progress yesterday came from the Dáil committee on reform, which agreed a host of changes to how the Dáil will do its business.

The most important change is the formation of a new committee which will be responsible for scheduling Dail business, meaning it is no longer the prerogative of the Government.

They have also agreed to change the rules to allow more than one technical groups and lowered the numbers needed to form such a group.

The changes will see the Labour Party reduced to being allowed ask just one question a week of the Taoiseach, a stark reminder of how far their stock has fallen.

The main focus today will be on what comes out of the meeting between Kenny and Martin.

Let’s hope some progress can be made.

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