Fine Gael and Labour start coalition talks in Dublin

Mon, Feb 28, 2011, 00:00

Fine Gael and Labour have commenced talks on the formation of a coalition government.

Labour party leader Eamon Gilmore and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny met in private at Leinster House this evening to discuss potential policies and portfolios. They have agreed to meet again early tomorrow morning.

Both sides have accepted they are under pressure from Europe to agree a pact within days and in time for Labour members to approve the party's entry into a coalition government.

Speaking this morning, Alan Shatter, Fine Gael's justice spokesman, said it would be "wrong to foreclose" on the idea of a government featuring independents but added it would be "very difficult" to achieve such an arrangement.

Later meetings will see negotiating teams from the parties enter the discussions. The Fine Gael team includes Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter.

Eamon Gilmore also confirmed his representatives for the talks. These include Joan Burton, Pat Rabbitte, Brendan Howlin and Dr Colm O'Reardon, the party's policy director.

A Fine Gael spokesman said Mr Kenny had made it clear he wanted to form a stable and secure government to deal with the enormous fiscal challenge facing the country. “Enda is determined to have the discussions on the formation of government finished sooner rather than later,” he said.

Mr Gilmore also said yesterday that he wanted to have talks on a possible coalition completed as quickly as possible. He added that if the largest party in the Dáil wanted to talk to the second-largest party about the formation of government, the window of opportunity was small.

A Labour spokesman said last night that the ball was in Fine Gael’s court as it was their prerogative as the largest party to try to put a government together.

Fine Gael has not ruled out talking to other parties or Independents about the formation of a government but the Dáil arithmetic favours a coalition, with Labour as the most stable option.

With recounts taking place in three constituencies, the projected outcome last night was Fine Gael 76 seats, Labour 37, Fianna Fáil 20, Sinn Féin 14, United Left Alliance 5 and Others 14.

A full recount of votes is underway in the Galway West constituency, where Fine Gael has so far failed to return a TD. The recount was ordered yesterday evening by Fine Gael’s Fidelma Healy-Eames after the tenth count in Leisureland, Salthill, when only 56 votes separated her from party rival Sean Kyne (FG).

A full recount of votes is also under way in Wicklow, which has yet to elect a TD, and Laois-Offaly.

Fianna Fáíl TD and former minister Dick Roche was eliminated this evening following a full recount.

The share of first-preference votes was: Fine Gael 36.1 per cent, Labour 19.4 per cent, Fianna Fáil 17.4 per cent, Sinn Féin 9.9 per cent, Independents 15.2 per cent and Green Party 1.8 per cent.

The turnout was 70.1 per cent and was the highest since 1987.

It was by far the worst result for Fianna Fáil since the foundation of the party and a number of senior figures, including Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and deputy leader Mary Hanafin, lost their seats.

Other high-profile casualties included Mary O’Rourke, Seán Haughey, Barry Andrews and Conor Lenihan. The party has been particularly badly hit in the Dublin area, where Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan was the only Fianna Fáil candidate to take a seat. The party now has no women TDs.

Fine Gael has had its best-ever election result in terms of seats and is the biggest party in the Dáil for the first time in its history. The Labour Party, which also had a record result, has only half as many seats as Fine Gael.

Sinn Féin is on course for its best-ever election result in the Republic with 14 seats, while the United Left Alliance may end up with five and Independents 14.

Mr Kenny has received phone calls of congratulations from German chancellor Angela Merkel, the British prime minister David Cameron, the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and a number of other European leaders.

The Fine Gael leader will attend a meeting of the European People’s Party in Helsinki on Friday, where he will meet many of the leaders with whom he spoke yesterday.

On Thursday week, a day after the Dáil meets to elect the new government, the leaders of all the euro zone countries will meet in Brussels to discuss the issues at the heart of the bailout. Decisions on these issues will be made a fortnight later at a full EU summit.