DANIEL MCCONNELL: Lord Shane Ross takes the moral high ground

It was a case of Upstairs Downstairs last night in the talks between Fine Gael and the Independents, writes Daniel McConnell

The Independent Alliance were being housed on the top floor of Government Buildings by their Fine Gael hosts, while their Rural Alliance counterparts had to slum it downstairs.

I’m sure Lord Shane Ross of Enniskerry approved of such order.

He approved of little else throughout the day.

Yesterday, it was like living in parallel universes.

If you talk to Fine Gaelers, progress is going well and a deal is possible this week.

If you talk to the Independents, progress is slow, many issues remain outstanding and there is little chance of a deal this week.

The more Fine Gael say a deal will happen before the weekend, the more the Independents insist that simply won’t happen.

Yesterday, talks continued with the Shane Ross Alliance, sorry, I mean the Independent Alliance, but alas progress was slow.

Ross himself was locked in meetings with Michael Noonan and Frances Fitzgerald for several hours over his demand for a new way to appoint judges.

Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan

He wants to remove it out of the political sphere whereby the government appoints their cronies, I mean friends, sorry I mean well capable lawyers who just happen to be sympathetic to their cause. Instead he wants to kick it to some independent quango.

But things were not going his way, with one of his Independent Alliance colleague saying “Shane could walk on this. He is going to the wall on this one”.

Even among his own, there was much bemusement at Ross’ stance on an issue like judicial appointments, with many TDs questioning how many votes such a stance will win.

After four hours of talks, little progress was made, even after legal representatives from both sides met to try and breach the impasse.

Last night, a meeting between the Independent Alliance and Fine Gael was pencilled in on the agenda to run “from 8pm to finish”, a sign that Fine Gael wanted to wrap up this process as quickly as possible.

Earlier in the day, members of the alliance held individual bilateral meetings with the relevant Fine Gael minister in order to get their “niche” issues dealt with.

The hope from Fine Gael’s side was to produce a tri-party document between themselves, the Rural Alliance and the Independent Alliance.

One alliance source, speaking to me last night, said those Fine Gael hopes of a quick finish were “optimistic”.

Meanwhile, it also emerged that Barry Cowen took to his feet at his parliamentary party meeting and had a right aul lash at the Fine Gael negotiating team.

Barry Cowen
Barry Cowen

Unsurprisingly, he said Leo Varadkar was more interested in cocktails at the Marker Hotel than the talks.

Paschal Donohoe, he said, only did what he was told and obeyed the orders of civil servants.

To Simon Coveney’s claim that Fine Gael look after farmers, Cowen replied by saying: “Yeah, you do if they have 200 acres or more”.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald did not live in the real world, he said to much applause and laughter from his colleagues.

Ahead of a warm ovation, Cowen pointed out what he saw as the differences between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. “They want cocktails, but I’d rather a few pints with the people,” he told me he said.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

After attracting some flack, Cowen took to the airwaves to say his comments at the meeting were reported out of context, by the excellent reporter Sarah Bardon of the Irish Times.

However, several of Cowen’s colleagues said the context as reported was perfectly fine and he said all of those things.

Meanwhile, Labour’s conversion to opposition continued as Angry Alan Kelly took to his feet to bemoan the lack of commitment to climate change in Ireland.

In what is quickly becoming his weekly rant at the nation, Kelly let rip as he did last week over Irish Water.

No chance of Labour voting for Enda now. Ah well, break-ups are never easy.

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