Daniel McConnell: Over two weeks later, are we any closer to a new government?

Sixteen days on from the General Election, the road to government formation remains rocky and decidedly unclear.

Daniel McConnell: Over two weeks later, are we any closer to a new government?

Over two weeks on from the General Election, the road to government formation remains rocky and decidedly unclear.

With much being made about Sinn Féin's lack of suitability for government by the other parties, can a government which delivers on the 'Change' agenda actually be delivered upon?

Would such a government be viable?

Or would a government made up of the two old enemies of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in addition to the Greens or Independents be the option we end up with in the end?

Ahead of a key meeting between acting Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, it is worth examining just who is actually talking and who they are talking to and ultimately just how a government can be formed.

Fianna Fáil

Had there been any doubt as to where Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin stood about potentially entering government with Sinn Féin, they got their answer in the Dáil last Thursday.

In a very strong attack on Sinn Féin and its leader, Mary Lou McDonald, Martin laid out a devastating critique of where he thinks Sinn Féin stands in relation to violence. And he made clear, his comments were not about yesterday or 10, 20 or 30 years ago, he was talking about the here and now.

Martin's continuing refusal to engage with McDonald means that if a government is to be formed and if he is to have a chance of becoming Taoiseach, he will have to do a deal with Fine Gael.

The first round of “exploratory talks” with Varadkar will commence on Tuesday and while there is internal opposition to a coalition arrangement with the old enemy.

Even at grassroots level, feelings are clearly mixed on a deal with Sinn Féin, a deal with Fine Gael or even a reversal of the Confidence and Supply which saw Fianna Fáil facilitate government from opposition between 2016 and 2020.

While he has already held discussions with other groupings, Martin will again meet with the Greens, the Social Democrats and Independents on Thursday and Friday. Another meeting of the parliamentary party is expected this week as well.

Sinn Féin

Even before all of the 160 Dáil seats were filled, Mary Lou McDonald was declaring victory. Victory for her, her party and the 25% of the electorate who she said voted for change.

Bouyed by the size of the vote attracted by so many of her new TDs, McDonald set about to seek to form a left-wing government led by her.

She said the public has had enough of the “tweedle-dum, tweedle-dee” politics of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

However, in recent days, the party has had to concede a left-wing government is unlikely.

In the Dáil last Thursday, McDonald did however win the most votes to be Taoiseach, and as she pointed out, it was the first time a leader of the two old big parties had failed to be in that position.

Yet, her 45 votes of support (37 from her own party, five Solidarity/People Before Profit TDs and other Independents Catherine Connolly, Joan Collins and Thomas Pringle) are not enough to get her elected to the top office.

She remains in the position of needing a deal with Martin or Varadkar if she is to be in Government, and based on what they have both said, that is simply not going to happen.

Fine Gael

Having finished in third place, both in terms of Dáil seats and the popular vote, the desire of many within Fine Gael to go into opposition is palpable.

Leo Varadkar, remarkably so far, has faced little or no calls for his own resignation, despite the dismal performance of his party. Since 2011, they have lost 41 seats and more than 15% of its share of the vote.

The parliamentary party met last week, and the overriding mood was for a need to reflect on and accept the outcome of the election.

The party has clearly said the onus is not on it to seek to form a government but has made clear it will in the national interest be prepared to talk to Fianna Fáil as a means of last resort.

The party has said it is willing to talk to all parties except Sinn Féin. “That position is not going to change,” said Minister Helen McEntee today.

Grassroot members are clearly saying that it is for Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil in the first instance to explore forming a government.

There is a growing realisation that a deal with Fianna Fáil, the Greens and perhaps some independents could be needed to avoid a second general election.

But, as Varadkar has been keen to spell out, such a move would indeed be a last resort for a party that really has no business being in government having been rejected twice by a majority of the people.

Greens

The party is transformed in terms of size and influence. Rejected wholesale by the electorate in 2011, the Greens re-emerged in 2016 with two seats.

Having won the Fingal by-election in November, they have not only maintained what they had, they have swelled their numbers to 12 in the Dáil.

Their party leader Eamon Ryan has said they are happy to talk to anyone and everyone, but others like Neasa Hourigan, newly elected TD for Dublin-Central, have warned their presence cannot be taken for granted.

Many within the party have said they would come under significant pressure to reject any deal with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, but with little appetite for a second election, the party may find itself with little choice.

Social Democrats

The party of six had initially been seen as ideal coalition partners by some of the larger parties, but in recent days their attractability has waned significantly.

Their decision to cancel a meeting with Fine Gael was seen as an overly precious move as was their decision to abstain from the vote on Taoiseach in the Dáil last Thursday.

Gary Gannon, in a series of tweets, says his party could not support a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition but clarified that they could still deal with them separately.

Independents

If the Greens do end up ruling themselves out, a new technical grouping of nine TDs has emerged, which could play a crucial role in the formation of a new government.

The new group comprises Cathal Berry, Sean Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Verona Murphy, Matt Shanahan, Michael Lowry, Peadar Toibin, and Denis Naughten as convener.

These sort of gene-pool independents, several of whom are former ministers, are ideal coalition fillers.

Once they obtain delivery on their pet projects, they have proven very loyal in previous coalitions.

Once bought, they stay bought. Not an option to be discounted.

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