First moves get under way in bid to form government

Tánaiste confirms the Labour Party will back Kenny for Taoiseach

After election upheaval, the main focus of speculation is on a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition, but is it likely to happen? Harry McGee, Stephen Collins and Sarah Bardon discuss.


The first moves in the manoeuvring to form the next government will begin today as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil seek to win the support of Independents and smaller parties in the vote for Taoiseach when the new Dáil sits on March 10th.

Following the inconclusive election result which has left the Coalition well short of a majority, Tánaiste Joan Burton confirmed the Labour Party will vote for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

This means he is assured of the votes of at least 59 TDs when the 32nd Dáil meets for the first time.

Fine Gael suffered badly and Labour lost more than three-quarters of its seats in the election. Fianna Fáil staged a strong resurgence and Sinn Féin improved its seat numbers significantly.

Fine Gael looks likely to end up with 52 seats, Fianna Fáil 43, Sinn Féin 23 and Labour seven. The Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit group will likely have six; the Social Democrats three; the Green Party two; the Independent Alliance six; and other Independents 16. Fine Gael had 67 seats and Labour 33 at the dissolution of the last Dáil.

Smaller parties

Over the next 10 days Mr Kenny’s Ministerial colleagues will try to persuade some of the smaller parties, and as many of the Independents as possible, to back him in the Dail vote on the basis he is the only party leader with a realistic chance of becoming Taoiseach.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said he would welcome support from smaller parties and Independents. His advisors have already drawn up a list of key principles to underpin any arrangement with other groups and individuals in the Dáil.

Mr Kenny, Mr Martin and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams are all expected to be proposed as Taoiseach on March 10th, but they will all probably be defeated.

However, if one of them can win significantly more support than the others, this will place them in a stronger position to be elected as Taoiseach at a later date.

“We respect the decision of the electorate which has not given any of us a mandate to form a government but Enda Kenny has a duty as outgoing Taoiseach to try and put a stable government in place and that is what he will do,” said one senior Fine Gael figure.

“We will talk to everybody including smaller parties like the Greens and Social Democrats who are policy driven and to the two main groups of Independents who may be more concerned with constituency issues,” he added.

He said that if the votes of more than 70 TDs could be assembled for Mr Kenny on March 10th, it would be hard to argue he should not be allowed to try and form a government, even if he was defeated in the vote for Taoiseach on the first occasion.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar last night said: “It’s up to the Opposition to see if they can form a government. We’ve been rebuffed.”

Stable government

However, that is not the view of other senior figures in Fine Gael who believe that as the largest party in the Dáil they cannot simply walk away from responsibility to provide stable government.

Fianna Fáil’s strategy is to try and get more votes for Mr Martin than Mr Kenny on March 10th.

If this happens, the Fianna Fáil leader would be in a strong position to try and persuade the smaller parties and Independents as well as the Labour Party that he should be given the option of forming a government.

The numbers do not seem to be in place for a Fianna Fáil-led government unless Sinn Féin is prepared to throw its weight behind the idea but that seems highly unlikely.

Grand coalition

At this stage it appears highly unlikely that a grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will emerge from the confused result of the election that has given no clear mandate on the formation of government.

Fianna Fáil sources are adamant the party cannot go back on its pre-election commitment not to enter coalition with Fine Gael.

It will even be difficult to persuade the party to agree to some formula to allow Fine Gael to remain in office as a minority government.

Neither of the major parties is ruling out a second election in the coming months, although they accept that the voters would not welcome such a development.

“It is all very fine to say Fine Gael should remain as a minority government but we need to have a mechanism that will enable us to govern.

“There is no point being in government if you don’t have any power,” said one Minister.

Mr Kenny’s leadership is not an issue at this stage despite the poor election performance.


Under the Fine Gael constitution, he cannot be challenged as long as he is involved in the process of trying to form a government.

However, most TDs and Ministers are now firmly of the opinion that Mr Kenny should not lead the party into another election.