DANIEL MCCONNELL: Fine Gael warming to idea of opposition

Yesterday in the deserted corridors of Leinster House, pickings were slim for the media ahead of the much anticipated meeting between the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil teams, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

The sight of the Fianna Fáil negotiating team in the canteen at lunch time caused a swarm of hacks to linger in the hope of a tip off.

The wait was in vain as Micheál Martin and his team remained mute.

“Go away,” Martin said in a good-natured fashion to one frustrated hack.

A short while later, during a break from a meeting of Fine Gael ministers, Simon Coveney was also giving little away as he sought to replenish his energy levels.

It was clear both teams were keeping matters very tight and were minding their manners in a bid to endear themselves to their rivals.

But, during the afternoon something interesting happened.

“I hear we are going into opposition,” said one Fine Gael handler to me in the corridor.

Oh, I said in reply, why so?

“I sense that some on our side wish to put it up to Fianna Fáil to step up,” the handler said.

That would be significant as so far Fine Gael has sought to make the most of being the party with the most seats.

They have reminded us time and time again that their mandate is greater than Fianna Fáil’s but yet Enda Kenny has failed twice now to be elected taoiseach in the Dáil.

But whether the comment was one of a devious nature or a serious shift in party policy, there is a constituency within Fine Gael who genuinely feel they are better off leaving office.

“We lost the election, between us and Labour we lost 50 odd seats,” said one senior TD.

But not everyone in Fine Gael shares that view.

A strong cohort of senior ministers and Enda Kenny himself are of course desperate to remain in power, no matter what the cost.

They have in recent weeks repeatedly offered the family silver to Fianna Fáil in a bid to share power, only to have been rebuffed severely on several occasions.

But they know too that even a minority Fine Gael government is fraught with difficulties and has no guarantee of lasting.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald gave voice to that concern on Sunday and the Taoiseach added his concerns last night.

Frances Fitzgerald
Frances Fitzgerald

Speaking at the National Concert Hall, Kenny spoke of the complex political landscape thrown up by the electorate on February 26 which has made forming a government very difficult.

He said politicians of all parties must be mindful of their responsibility to the public: “The new political reality following the election of the 32nd Dáil is difficult for all political parties, including my own. The general election result requires a new way of doing politics to provide stable and lasting government”.

Fine Gael warming to idea of opposition

“The complex decision delivered by the people requires a different kind of answer, a different kind of response. A big bold response,” he said.

“Negotiations are continuing as I stand here, and it is my most earnest hope that we can achieve a government in the national interest and the people,” Kenny said concluding his remarks.

But the one piece of succour Kenny and Fine Gael can take from this sham process, is that Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil are not all that keen about taking office.

Never has the race for opposition been so fierce it seems.

Fine Gael warming to idea of opposition

Martin and Co had a good election, not a great election but a good election.

They are not ready to lead a government nor do they have the numbers realistically to do so.

They would much prefer another stint in opposition, maybe for 18 months or two years, and then leap frog Fine Gael to become the largest party.

As for the Independents, it would appear they would be holding fire to see what the “ground rules” would look like, as Roscommon TD Denis Naughten said.

He urged the parties to make progress and come to some agreement on Irish Water and USC but other Independents signalled their intention to abstain from the vote on Thursday.

We must continue to wait.

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