Fine Gael tries to ‘woo’ potential coalition partners
Top party figures hear suggestions FF chief Micheál Martin building Dáil alliances
A private meeting of Fine Gael Cabinet Ministers and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s senior staff heard suggestions that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is already building Dáil alliances. Photograph: Collins
Fine Gael Ministers are to step up their attempts to “woo” potential coalition partners such as Labour and the Greens as a general election approaches amid concern that they are being outflanked by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
A private meeting of Fine Gael Cabinet Ministers and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s senior staff heard suggestions that Mr Martin is already building Dáil alliances, with his relationship with Labour leader Brendan Howlin cited.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will be eager to avoid a repeat of the outcome of the 2016 general election which was followed by lengthy talks on forming a government, and ultimately saw the latter enter into a confidence and supply agreement to prop up its rival, a minority administration.
Numerous sources at the Fine Gael meeting said the exchanges focussed on how the party could achieve a majority government, with one saying there was an emphasis on “building relationships”.
Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty is understood to have expressed curiosity about the relationship between Mr Howlin and Mr Martin.
“She didn’t quite say ‘what is the game plan’?” said one person present.
One source said the Taoiseach was clear he wanted his Ministers to build relationships with their opposition counterparts. The source added that some Ministers replied that they were doing so already.
“We were told to step it up. The Taoiseach definitely made it clear he wanted this done.”
However, another claimed Mr Varadkar said the numbers in the next Dáil would be the determining factor.
Mr Howlin has said Fianna Fáil’s policy platform is more in line with what Labour wants to achieve if it re-enters government.
Labour also wants to align with others on the centre-left – such as the Greens and the Social Democrats – to form a single negotiating bloc after the next election.
It is understood Mr Varadkar indicated to the meeting he is not as keen on the Social Democrats.
“They might be a crucial bloc in the future,” one Minister said of the smaller parties, adding that while the term “rainbow coalition” may not have been used, this was the preferred future government, with Independents included if needed.
Mr Martin has also been clear that his preference is to form a centre-left government, minority or majority, after the next election.
Some in Labour privately favour a coalition with Fianna Fáil, believing that the effective settling of certain social issues in recent years – such as liberalising abortion laws and the introduction of same-sex marriage – would make such an alliance easier to manage.
However, a Fine Gael Minister said the party’s reputation on such issues, as well as its current policies on climate change, made it “well positioned” to attract the support of Labour, the Greens and others. Independent TDs were also factored into the discussion.
“They were included in that,” said one source. “And it was noted we have shown we can work well with them.”
It was also claimed – although not at the meeting – that Mr Varadkar himself needed to work harder to build a rapport with people such as Mr Howlin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.
“The point was subtly made,” a source said of the comments made by Ministers. “A lot of people pointed out they already had good relationships.”