DANIEL MCCONNELL: No-one giving prospective government much chance

Even if all of the obstacles can be overcome, the prospective government has little chance of running a full term, writes Political Editor Daniel McConnell.

I just don’t see how it can work.

Confirmation that acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin spoke, clearing the way for the latest round of talks is a welcome development.

A Fine Gael minority government is now the sole remaining goal, given the inevitable decision of Fianna Fáil to abandon their bid for power, and the two negotiating teams began exploring the possibilities yesterday afternoon.

Yet myriad difficulties remain to be overcome before a deal can be reached which would see a new government formed.

Leaving aside the Independents for a moment, the scale of the troubles between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is considerable.

Rooted in deception and driven by suspicion of each other, the events of the past week are symptomatic of the hostilities that exist between the old enemies.

Such deception and suspicion played out at the Fianna Fáil meeting on Thursday night, where TDs were reminded not to use the words “supporting” or “partnership” to describe their arrangement with Fine Gael.

They would be “facilitating” Fine Gael, TDs were told to remember, should they be speaking to the media.

“It will not be a programme for government, it will be not us supporting them but rather we will not be blocking certain key matters,” said TD Sean Fleming yesterday.

However, the strong desire of many in Fianna Fáil not to commit to any written document reflects the large body of hostility within the party to doing any sort of deal, even if that means a second election.

But with Fine Gael insisting that any deal would need to be written down, the Fianna Fáil stance will have to soften if this is going to work.

There is also residual anger within Fianna Fáil at Fine Gael’s parliamentary party motion committing to the future existence of Irish Water. In the middle of talks, it was seen as confrontational and partisan.

The next problem is that Fianna Fáil are demanding Fine Gael show which Independent TDs are now backing them in addition to Michael Lowry and Katherine Zappone.

And for their part, the Independents are now unwilling to move before the two parties can show some common ground.

No-one giving prospective government much chance

With such unease within Fianna Fáil, the more likely scenario is that Fine Gael will work the Independents hard in a bid to show their hand.

Their pitch is that the earlier you declare, the better the gig you will have on the far side.

That pitch seems to be working, as several Independents speaking to me yesterday said Fine Gael have already committed to giving them pretty much everything they want.

But take the Independent Alliance — there is not unanimity within the group and while they have so far held together, as we enter end game territory, I suspect the price of doing a deal may be too high for some.

Dublin Bay North TD Finian McGrath was on the airwaves demanding up to six Cabinet seats for Independents, which sounds like a high asking price.

As an audacious request as that was by McGrath, it reflects a reality that the Independents are not united, and nailing all of them down could come at a heavy price.

And Fine Gael, it seems, would be willing to meet most of those demands, and yet the thing still seems too fanciful to last.

No matter how good the deal is from their point of view, it is hard to escape the reality that most of the Independents do not have the stomach for government.

Very few of them would have the staying power to oversee a tough austerity budget or stand by and watch hospital wards being closed or services denied to the elderly.

“That is true. We are not used to that and would be able to stand by and go along with things like that. I doubt it,” said one leading member of the Independent Alliance.

It is also true that the 14 Independents who abstained on Thursday are far from being one united group.

As many as eight of them were ready on Wednesday night to back Micheál Martin in his bid to become Taoiseach, only to be outraged by Martin’s “put up or shut up” threat.

They were angered because for much of the previous three weeks, many of them had gotten the impression Martin and Fianna Fáil “weren’t arsed” about forming a minority government.

“It was only when they realised a number of us were leaning that way did they up their game,” said the Independent Alliance member. “Certainly on Wednesday, Micheal upped the engagement. But that night his threat pissed so many of us off.”

No-one giving prospective government much chance

Several of those could be swayed back into play for Fianna Fáil should things not go well with Fine Gael in the coming days, and there is some suggestion that Martin could rethink his party’s stance on minority government if that happened.

The willingness of so many of the Independents to do a deal with Martin has frankly a lot to do with their dislike of Enda Kenny.

From the outset of all of these talks, Kenny’s position has been an impediment to progress.

Time and time again, Independents have warned that even if they secured everything they were looking for from Fine Gael, supporting Kenny is a major problem for them.

So many of them ran on platforms of opposing Kenny and they fear their support base would be eviscerated if they were to do a deal.

It is for this reason that it is likely in the coming days, it is likely that a number of Independents will walk away from the talks into the safety of the backbenches.

With everyone working towards next Wednesday, the prospect of a vote for Taoiseach remains in the balance.

Fine Gael have made it clear that they do not want another vote unless Kenny can win it.

In a bid to win it, and also in a realisation that the independent appetite for a deal is lukewarm, they are reaching back out to the likes of the Labour Party, the Greens and the Social Democrats.

Ultimately, even if all those obstacles can be overcome, no one is giving the prospective government much chance of running a full term.

Whether it can run for the three years the Independents are seeking also seems to be too much to ask for.

Given the level of personal animosity between Kenny and Martin, their parties and the lack of staying power of the independents, the chance of a second election in the short run has increased significantly.

I would like to think I am wrong, but as I said at the start, I just don’t see how it can work.

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