MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Government talks: Now they can return to talks about talks and keep talking

Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins speaks to the media outside Leinster House yesterday. Picture: Laura Hutton/Collins

Time is now the enemy as policy issues need to be decided for government, writes Michael Clifford

GOD be with the days when all an Independent TD had to worry about was a list of goodies in order to secure their vote. These days the poor crayters are buckling under the weight of the expectation of a nation.

So it seemed yesterday ahead of the latest farcical vote to elect a leader of the country. While Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin were the two candidates, the real power resided with the 15 independents who have been shuttling between talks and broadcast studios for weeks now.

From early on, the independents were on the airwaves wrestling fiercely with their consciences. In the case of the Healy-Raes, there was two voices for one conscience, but don’t rule out a split there yet. There’s a long road to run.

Martin had put it up to the Independents with the ultimatum that this would be the last chance they will ever get to vote for him as Taoiseach. How could anybody with a pulse pass up on such an offer?

Government talks: Now they can return to talks about talks and keep talking

The Indos were in a tizzy. Now they knew how it felt to carry a nation on one’s shoulders. Now they could feel Bono’s pain. It was as if he was there with them, guiding them towards their destiny with three chords and the truth.

As the clock ticked towards a reconvening of the Dáil, there was only one thing for it. A meeting. So it came to pass that just as the country sat down to either eat dinner or grab lunch, the “Rural Five” broke bread with the “Independent Alliance”.

They emerged sometime later with a document that bore the signature of 14 Independents, good and true. The sight of scribbled signatures at the bottom of the page brought to mind another great document, the Anglo Irish Treaty, which also bore the name of a Michael Collins from West Cork.

Independent Michael Lowry pictured at Leinster House ahead of the Dail vote for taoiseach.
Independent Michael Lowry pictured at Leinster House ahead of the Dail vote for taoiseach.

But here were the Independents bookending Civil War politics with their declaration that they intended to remain seated on the fence until the latest vote for Taoiseach had passed.

“We are stepping back from the talks on the formation of a new government with both parties until they agree a reciprocal agreement that they will give mutual support to each other, in the event of either party leader becoming Taoiseach in a minority government,” the document read. And with that, Micheál Martin’s hope of pulling down the top job was handed a death warrant.

That momentous decision took any mystery out of the vote to come in the afternoon. With the independents all hanging back, it was inevitable that Kenny would garner more votes for Taoiseach and relegate Martin to a supporting role in the next government.

The usual shenanigans had to be endured once the House opened for business.

Gerry Adams was quick out of the blocks, pleading that “those who want to be nominated [for taoiseach] go off and discuss policy matters which have not been discussed”. He suggested that the election of a taoiseach be put off until the two lands sorted themselves out.

Government talks: Now they can return to talks about talks and keep talking

That was the first of three occasions in which Adams rose to speak before the vote itself. He is quite obviously agitated that he will not be assuming the role of Leader of the Opposition, as would be his expectation if Micheal and Enda had come together to govern.

The nomination itself ran along the same lines as last week’s farrago. Fine Gael’s Noel Rock proposed, and used the occasion to blow kisses at the Independents, lauding them for their selfless duty to the flag.

On the other side, Lisa Chambers gave a comparatively lengthy speech, informing the rapt audience that “Micheál is still making every effort to form a Fianna Fáil minority government”. Straight faces were maintained for that excursion into fantasy and one wondered were the newest TDs handed the silliest lines to parrot for the occasion.

It was two hours before the whole matter was down and dusted. Kenny’s nomination went down in flames by a vote of 52-77, Martin by 43-91.

Afterwards the slow train got back on track. As far as Fianna Fáil was concerned, the talks had arrived at a point where policy had to be discussed.

That could only occur once it was clear which party was going to govern and which was going to oppose, or at least sort-of oppose.

The numbers had dictated that it was unlikely that Martin would overtake Kenny in a vote, but the Fianna Fáil leader wanted that confirmed. So he put it up to the independents — vote for the man who lost the election (Enda) or vote for the man who thinks he won the election (his good self).

That was all yesterday was about. Now they can return to the talks about talks and keep talking until they talk their way past the talks about talks all the way into simply talks.

Following the vote, Kenny rose to tell the House that it was incumbent on all involved to intensify efforts to form a government.

Government talks: Now they can return to talks about talks and keep talking

“I hope everybody who has accepted the responsibility about doing something about this will face up to the responsibility.”

Martin responded, saying there was much progress but more to do.

“If you want to find a way to make the new situation work then we continue to be willing and flexible,” he said.

They don’t have much time. The Dáil reconvenes next Wednesday. If Kenny is not elected Taoiseach on that day, the chances of another election go through the roof.

Between now and then, the talkers will have to sort out the major policy issues and agree to a framework in which Martin’s party will not bring down the government. In this process, time is finally the enemy.

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