Coveney: ‘No credible alternatives’ to going back into government

Richard Bruton ‘has expressed concerns’ about risk of Fine Gael forming a government with Fianna Fáil

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said there are no credible alternatives to going back into government but acknowledged many in Fine Gael have “deep reservations” about the step.

The comments from the Fine Gael deputy leader come in a letter to party councillors ahead of the publication of a framework document between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on how coalition between the two could work.

“I’m conscious that many in Fine Gael have deep reservations about the prospect of our party being part of any new government following the last election,” Mr Coveney wrote.

“However it has become self-evident after more than two months, that left wing parties, on their own, simply will not be able to form a stable majority.


“It is also evident, in my view, that in the midst of all that Ireland faces now, we need a strong government that can make decisions, pass laws and deliver budgets.”

He said Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wanted to agree a basis to invite other parties to enter talks “ to create a diverse but strong partnership government that would last, with a clear mandate and majority”.

“The next step to forming a government is not going to be straight forward, will take quite some time and there are no guarantees of success.”

He said that “at least three political parties” are needed to build a “credible and diverse enough government to respond to the general election”.

“There are risks with whatever choices we make as a party, but as ever, we will seek to give the political leadership the country needs.”

Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, has acknowledged he has concerns about the risk of Fine Gael forming a government with Fianna Fáil,

“I have expressed concerns about the risks, that it [a government] wouldn’t be durable, that it wouldn’t deliver,” he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.

Mr Bruton is chairman of his party’s reference group, which was formed to examine the planned coalition “to make sure we step back from the cut and thrust of any negotiations”.

There are seven key tests that will be applied, and his role is to ensure that any agreement meets the key tests, the primary one being that nothing will distract from the central task of protecting people “at this time of crisis,” he explained.

Any government that is formed must be durable and able to respond to “the challenges of our time.” Members of the Fine Gael parliamentary party will receive the agreement document today and will meet at 5pm to discuss it, he said.

It would be “doing no one any favour” if a government “was formed in haste and did not survive the pace,” added Mr Bruton. “Only as the process evolves will we see if it can last the pace.”

When asked if he was likely to lose his ministerial position in a new coalition, Mr Bruton said there had not been any discussion yet on who might make up the government. He said he recognised that “the road ahead is tricky.”

“We are starting in good faith, we have to work this through and see if agreement can be reached.”

TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs whose views were canvassed about the potential for a coalition, agreed the current crisis had created the conditions for what many might have considered unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

While Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael backbenchers were reserving their views on the framework agreement until they see the details – due to be presented at parliamentary party meetings on Wednesday – most indicated they were prepared to offer their backing for a coalition deal due to the country’s need for a stable government.

“We’re living in unprecedented times” was a common refrain among deputies from both parties as they acknowledged how the global health and economic crisis had shifted mindsets and political goalposts over the past month.

“There really is no other show in town. It’s either a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil or have another election,” said one Fine Gael TD.

One Fianna Fáil TD, who believed alternative coalitions should have been considered by party leader Micheál Martin, predicted the proposed government with Fine Gael would cause “huge divisions” among the party’s membership.

“There is no question but there will be a lot of opposition to such a deal up and down the country among Fianna Fáil members. We are a long way off from getting such an agreement through,” the TD added.

The deputy said he did not believe Fine Gael was capable of changing its political approach on major issues to the point where the party would come into line with the views of Fianna Fáil.

However, one of his party colleagues claimed ordinary members of the party were “more open minded to a deal with Fine Gael given the new times in which we are living”.

“There will always be a cohort with major reservations about a deal that will bring an end to what could be described as civil war politics, but the feedback I’m getting is that there’s a realisation that things need to be done differently,” the TD added.

Such a sentiment was also echoed by a Munster-based Fine Gael TD who said many people realised there was a need to “knuckle down” and form a government to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

While supporting the proposed agreement, one newly elected Fianna Fáil TD said his major reservation was how it would allow Sinn Féin to be the main Opposition party and the opportunity it could give the largest party in the Dáil to win the next general election

“I say that even though I personally have more to lose by going into a coalition with Fine Gael than Sinn Féin,” he added.

Most Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael TDs agreed that getting a third party to sign up to the agreement represents perhaps the biggest remaining hurdle to the formation of a new government.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” said one TD who believed Labour offered the best hope of providing the proposed coalition with the numbers to ensure some level of a stable government.

Many also remained sceptical about the likelihood of their party leaders persuading the Greens or Social Democrats to sign up to form a coalition.

One Munster-based Fianna Fáil deputy said he would be “very uncomfortable” if the coalition was reliant on a group of independent TDs for government stability.

While the question of both parties retaining their individual identity in a coalition arrangement is a natural concern, most TDs argued their party leaders and frontbench spokespersons were more than capable of ensuring their distinct voice was heard in government.

“Keeping a party’s identity is always challenging for any coalition partner, but it is the same for everyone,” observed one TD who added that the “drastic changes” in Irish life meant all the old ways of doing politics were effectively redundant.