Parties discuss who should be taoiseach first in ‘coalition of equals’

FF and FG agree position should rotate between leaders and on equal split of ministerial jobs

It had been assumed that Micheál Martin would be taoiseach first but some in Fine Gael now think Leo Varadkar should remain in place to deal with Covid-19. Photograph: Niall Carson/AFP via Getty Images

It had been assumed that Micheál Martin would be taoiseach first but some in Fine Gael now think Leo Varadkar should remain in place to deal with Covid-19. Photograph: Niall Carson/AFP via Getty Images

 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are discussing who should be taoiseach first – Micheál Martin or Leo Varadkar – in any coalition between the parties, Mr Varadkar has said.

Both parties have already agreed in principle that the position of taoiseach should rotate between them in a coalition government of equals.

It is also understood that they have agreed in principle on an equal split in ministerial jobs. It had been assumed that Mr Martin would be taoiseach first in any arrangement but a view has taken hold among some in Fine Gael that Mr Varadkar should remain in place to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael together have 72 Dáil seats, eight short of a majority, and Mr Varadkar has said a third party is needed, as well as some Independents.

Although talks are continuing between the two Civil War parties, sources on both sides say there is still a long way to go until a government is formed.

On whether he or Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin would be taoiseach first, Mr Varadkar on Wednesday said: “That is something that is under discussion with Fianna Fáil but they are a party with slightly more seats than us and we recognise that but really I do not think anyone’s focus at the moment is on what job they are going to hold in a few weeks’ time or a few months’ time.”

Coalition Builder

Can you form a government?

Fianna Fáil have 37 seats and Fine Gael have 35, and Mr Varadkar’s comments could be seen as an acknowledgment that Mr Martin should be taoiseach first.

The two parties are attempting to agree a framework document and hope to then approach other parties and Independents seeking support.

Labour TDs this week reiterated its desire to go into opposition and the Social Democrats say their policies are not compatible with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The Civil War parties have ruled out dealing with Sinn Féin.

The Greens reiterated their position on Wednesday that they want to pursue a national unity government. However, it is understood there was a discussion at the Green parliamentary party about what to do if this fails.

There were differing views within the group on whether to engage with Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Internal debate is continuing and party sources said the Greens would likely examine any document produced by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

National effort

Newly elected Fianna Fáil senator and former TD Malcolm Byrne said the party should avoid “rushing into government” on the “basis that we support the national effort right now”. Mr Byrne won a Dáil seat in the Wexford byelection but lost it in January’s general election.

“For the next few weeks, we have to put politics aside and all work together. We will need a government in due course but Fianna Fáil must only go in on the basis of a clear policy platform discussed by the parliamentary party and membership setting out our agenda prior to any programme being agreed. Rushing formation and presenting a package as a fait accompli will be wrong.”

‘Gentle admonishment’

Meanwhile, the State’s most senior civil servant has issued the Oireachtas with what is being characterised as a “gentle admonishment” to TDs over the Dáil sitting on Thursday.

Martin Fraser, secretary general of the Government, sent a letter to his counterpart in the Oireachtas, Peter Finnegan, which has been forwarded to TDs.

Mr Fraser highlighted that “everyone in the country has been asked to stay at home, subject to the limited exceptions which have been published by the Government”. He also said he was “sure” this public health advice would be uppermost in the minds of Oireachtas officials and TDs organising Dáil business.