Fine Gael: ‘We are preparing to go into Opposition’
Party says FF must coalesce with SF or others if Mary Lou McDonald’s party fails to form left government
Fine Gael has mandated Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to engage with other parties “to share our analysis and perspectives on the outcome of the General Election”.
Fine Gael has said it is preparing to go into Opposition, after a six-hour parliamentary party meeting concluded on Monday night.
Afterwards, Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar told reporters on the Leinster House plinth: “It is very much our view that Sinn Féin, as the largest party, the onus is on them to form a government with parties of the left and Independents.
“If they are unsuccessful, the onus then falls to Fianna Fáil to form a government with Sinn Féin or with other parties and Independents.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has insisted his party will not enter coalition with Sinn Féin.
Following the General Election on Saturday, February 8th, Fianna Fáil ended up with 38 seats, Sinn Féin with 37 and Fine Gael 35.
Mr Varadkar said: “For the last three or four years now, the Opposition parties voted together on so many different matters - Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, the parties of the left, the Independents - more often than not they voted with each other.
“They make up nearly 80 per cent of the new Dáil. The onus is on them to form a government, not us.”
He said it was now Fine Gael’s job to lead the Opposition and provide a “strong opposition” in the Dáil. “It shouldn’t come to the fact that Fine Gael might be needed.”
Shortly before 8.30pm, Fine Gael released a statement which said Mr Varadkar told members of his parliamentary party that he “relishes the challenge” to lead a “strong and effective” Opposition in the new Dáil.
“We are preparing to go into Opposition,” the statement said.
Fine Gael said the parliamentary party’s belief was that the initial onus was on Sinn Féin to form a Government of the left with the support of Independents TDs.
“Sinn Féin has an obligation to the people who voted for it to show whether or not it can honour the extraordinary promises they made,” the statement said.
“If Sinn Féin fails in that challenge then the onus passes to Fianna Fáil to form a government with them, and/or with the Greens, Labour and Social Democrat parties and Independents.”
Fine Gael said the parliamentary party mandated Mr Varadkar to engage with other parties “to share our analysis and perspectives on the outcome of the General Election”.
However, there would be no negotiations on a programme for government without a further mandate from the parliamentary party, which will meet again next week.
During Monday’s meeting, those who spoke against the idea of a coalition with Fianna Fáil included Minister for Rural Affairs Michael Ring and Dublin South West TD Colm Brophy, while Minister for Communications Richard Bruton is said to have suggested the possibility of the main parties entering a Danish style-minority government arrangement.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan kept open the prospect of government with Fianna Fáil, if it was needed in the national interest.
Earlier, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said it was still possible for her party to lead a minority government of the left without the involvement of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.
Ms McDonald’s comments reflected a change of emphasis following remarks by her colleague Eoin Ó Broin on Friday that it would be impossible for Sinn Féin to lead a government without the support of either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett was among those who criticised Sinn Féin for “throwing in the towel” on the formation of a left-leaning administration too early.
On Monday Ms McDonald said forming a left wing coalition government would be tricky but not impossible. “It’s game on as far as I’m concerned,” she said.
She was speaking to reporters during a visit to the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre in Dublin on Monday.
Asked by The Irish Times if a minority left-wing government remained an option, Ms McDonald replied: “All options are still on the table but we’re all able to count, we’re able to add, and we’re able to subtract so I think we have recognised that the mathematics are tricky.
“And that’s okay, that’s that’s one consideration. But the bigger consideration is policy and ideas and delivery...Obviously you don’t want to be tight on numbers, but we need to look at all of these options.”
She said while the “numbers game” was important the public was less worried about that and more concerned about a sense of purpose and delivery. She insisted the one clear sentiment she had heard from the public was that there was no appetite for a government involving Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Ahead of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House, Mr Bruton had joined the chorus of senior TDs expressing opposition to a proposed grand coalition with Fianna Fáil.
Sources told The Irish Times that Mr Bruton – who served as the party’s deputy leader between 2002 and 2010 and is widely respected across Fine Gael – has said in private conversation that such a government had the potential to damage Fine Gael and could be rejected by the rank and file Fine Gael membership. A spokeswoman for Mr Bruton declined to comment.
Fine Gael ‘last resort’
Previously, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said Fine Gael would only enter government as a “last resort” and said is “preparing for opposition”.
The prospect of coalition with Fianna Fáil met with significant resistance within Fine Gael. Although some senior figures were open to the idea, many TDs were against it and argued that the party should rebuild in Opposition after almost a decade in power.
It has also provoked opposition within the wider Fine Gael organisation, where there have been growing calls for Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to attempt to form a government.
On Sunday night, Dublin city councillor Ray McAdam, who is close to Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, called on Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Greens to form a coalition capable of forming a Dáil majority.
Speaking ahead of the Fine Gael meeting, a group of newly elected party TDs repeated Mr Varadkar’s position that the onus falls on Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil to form a government.
Mr Richmond said: “There is a lot to discuss. A lot of people are trying to rush things. Ultimately Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil got the biggest votes, it is their prerogative to go out and try and form a government.
“We won’t be found wanting in any regard.”