Officials for Fine Gael told the Irish Examiner they found the comments, made by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin on Cork’s 96FM on Monday, about the prospects of such a move highly significant, and suggested a deal could be done if the numbers allow.
Speaking on the radio station at the start of the week, Mr Martin responded to questions over whether he would consider joining forces with Fine Gael after the election if a hung Dáil occurred by saying his party will act “responsibly” and in the national interest.
Asked about the remark on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland programme yesterday, the Cork South Central TD returned to his staunch opposition to forming any kind of coalition with Fine Gael.
However, he again failed to fully rule out support for a minority government from the opposition benches — effectively a re-run of the Tallaght Strategy in the 1980s — should this be the only way for the country to form a stable government.
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Asked if he would be “prepared to consider, in the national interest, supporting a minority Fine Gael government”, Mr Martin replied that “we don’t want to be in a minority situation”.
He said: “I’m not going to concede that at this stage, we will work in the national interest irrespective of our strength.”
Asked for a specific yes or no answer, Mr Martin said: “I’m not going down that route now because I want to be leading a party that’s a majority.”
While Mr Martin has until now specifically ruled out the prospect of propping up the current coalition in any form, he has come under pressure to consider the move due to recent polls showing that the current Fine Gael-Labour coalition will likely fall short of an overall majority.
In the first seven days of the official general election campaign, ex-Fianna Fáil ministers Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern have said a grand coalition or supporting Fine Gael-Labour from the opposition benches should be reconsidered depending on the election result.
Similarly, frontbench TD Willie O’Dea and election candidate Sean Haughey have both hinted at the prospect in recent days.
Speaking at the party’s health policy launch in Dublin yesterday, Fianna Fáil director of elections and health spokesman Billy Kelleher said coalitions “aren’t being discussed at all” at this stage.
“They are something that is way beyond the realm of the election itself, but I can rule certain things out. We will not be entering into coalition with Fine Gael, it’s not coming up [on the doorsteps], it’s not coming up,” he said.
“The idea I would walk up to the front door of a house, knock on the door, and ask for a vote for Fianna Fáil while in the same breath say we might support other parties simply is not credible.”