As Greens exit talks, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael reach out to smaller parties

FF, FG to consider programme for government as negotiations enter new phase

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: expressed concern over government formation delay in light of imminent Seanad election. Photograph: Steve Humphreys/Reuters/File Photo

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: expressed concern over government formation delay in light of imminent Seanad election. Photograph: Steve Humphreys/Reuters/File Photo

 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are to reach out to smaller parties and Independents in an attempt to form a coalition after the Green Party signalled it would not be part of government formation talks.

Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are to move from policy-based discussions to a process of mapping out a programme for government in what is being viewed as a significant acceleration in the process.

Negotiating teams from the two parties met on Wednesday afternoon and another formal meeting will take place in the coming days. In matching statements issued afterwards, the parties agreed that there is a need to “form a strong stable government that will help Ireland recover post Covid-19”.

“They are working to develop a programme for government that provides stability and majority support in the Dáil,” the statements said.

Sources in Fianna Fáil said the situation has “come to a head” because of the formation of a new Seanad next week. However, a senior Fine Gael source said there is “still no sign of a third party and [this] is not going to work without one”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl have expressed concern that the Oireachtas will not be able to pass legislation after next weekend as the new Seanad cannot be fully formed without the 11 senators nominated by a new taoiseach.

It is understood that both parties want the transition to a new government to take place after any peak in Covid-19 cases in order to minimise potential disruption.

Furthermore, Fianna Fáil is “keeping lines open” with smaller parties and independents after the Green Party said it would only be willing to take part in a national unity government that would focus on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a press conference in Government Buildings on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said any new government would need a “working majority”.

“I think we need a government that’s going to last, that will last until 2024 and 2025. It’s going to need a working majority, and that means it’s going to require more than Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” he said.

“Between the two parties, we only have 72 seats. I think for a stable working majority, you’re going to need 82-85. So that means having at least 10 more TDs who are willing to come on board, take the whip, stay the course, be willing to make the tough decisions as well as the popular ones for the next four years.

“And we’re not there yet, but we continue to negotiate with Fianna Fáil. There are discussions happening today and we hope to the point where we can then approach other parties to see if they’re willing to form part of that new government.”

Urgency

Sources in both parties said there was more urgency and focus during Wednesday’s two-hour meeting than in previous talks over the past fortnight.

“There was a definite sense of movement,” said a senior Fianna Fáil source. “I really think the situation that now faces us after the Seanad election has brought things to a head.”

Another figure familiar with the talks said the atmosphere was very positive with both sides recognising that political leadership was needed to deal with the pandemic, and the economic recovery that will have to happen once the emergency period has come to an end.

“My own view is that Fine Gael has realised that it cannot continue to govern in a caretaker capacity indefinitely and something needs to be done.”