Taoiseach Enda Kenny has finally ruled out going into government with Fianna Fáil after the general election, raising the spectre of a hung Dáil.
Following days of speculation, Mr Kenny yesterday definitively said he will not consider a grand coalition with his party’s long-time rival after a private dressing down from Labour leader Joan Burton on Sunday.
As the seven party leaders clashed last night during the second leaders’ debate at the University of Limerick, Mr Kenny restated his position of not wanting to do a deal with Fianna Fáil.
Speaking at the launch of the Labour Party manifesto, Ms Burton told reporters she expected the Taoiseach to make a statement clarifying the matter following their discussions. Ms Burton said she met with Mr Kenny on Sunday and was confident from that conversation he would rule out such a deal.
“I met the Taoiseach last night and he told me that he intended and I expect that, perhaps as I am speaking that he is clarifying that situation, he wants to see Fine Gael for his party, just as I want to see Labour for my party returned to government,” she said.
Speaking yesterday afternoon, Mr Kenny insisted repeatedly he will not share power with Fianna Fáil.
“I was the first party leader to rule out Fianna Fáil. I’ve ruled them out on at least 10 occasions in the last fortnight and I do so again now,” he said.
Mr Kenny claimed he has repeatedly ruled out a deal in the past, but his failure to definitively do so until now led to growing speculation the move was a possibility.
Mr Kenny’s previous refusal to explicitly rule out such a deal followed a softening in position from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
However, with the prospect of signing up to a deal with Fianna Fáil ruled out, and with Fine Gael-Labour likely to fall short of the 79 seats necessary to form the next government, the threat of a hung Dáil — which would force a second election and risk economic instability — is now looming.
The only other likely options open according to the latest polls are a Fine Gael-Labour coalition supported by the Social Democrats and a number of Independents, or a potential Fine Gael-Labour minority government backed up by Fianna Fáil from the opposition benches.
While the latter option would satisfy both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s short-term ambitions to return to power and regain credibility respectively, it would be unlikely to last more than a matter of months, risking a second election towards the end of this year.
Meanwhile, last night’s leaders debate saw Mr Kenny and Ms Burton target Micheál Martin’s economic crash legacy, while Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams said the trio were a “cosy consensus”. Mr Martin told reporters Mr Kenny says one thing on Saturday, Sunday and Monday about coalition and “will probably say something different tomorrow”. Social Democrats Stephen Donnelly said there is “faux outrage” from parties which will send “dancing girls and harpists” to greet Donald Trump, suggesting his party is an election king-maker.
AAA-PBP’s Richard Boyd Barrett criticised fiscal space “guesswork”, while Renua’s Lucinda Creighton said the coalition and Fianna Fáil’s crisis health record by saying: “I know you don’t agree with it, but it’s true.”
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