FF elders divided on entering coalition as junior party

Party veterans say excluding possibility is unrealistic given likely shape of next Dáil

Noel Dempsey: Electorate will decide and Fianna Fáil and others could then look at the options that are open to consideration. Photograph: The Irish Times

Noel Dempsey: Electorate will decide and Fianna Fáil and others could then look at the options that are open to consideration. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil elders are divided on whether the party should join a coalition as the junior party after the next election, which would raise the prospect of an alliance with Fine Gael.

A number of those contacted said it was unrealistic for political parties to exclude possible coalition partners, including Sinn Féin, given the fragmented state of opinion polls and likely shape of the next Dáil.

Others said Fianna Fáil should stay in opposition to allow the party recover and gain further strength from its current standing of 21 Dáil seats.

They were speaking after the party’s finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, this week said it would be arrogant of Fianna Fáil to rule out going into power unless it was the majority party. His position is in contrast to many of his party colleagues and his leader, Michéal Martin, who has ruled out entering into coalition with Fine Gael, describing their policies as too right wing.

Former minister and Fianna Fáil deputy leader Mary O’Rourke said last night Mr McGrath was “being realistic in the present circumstances”.

Former minister Noel Dempsey said the electorate will decide and Fianna Fáil and others could then look at the options that are open to consideration.

“It is too soon to be seriously talking about these things,” Mr Dempsey said, adding that Fianna Fáil’s task is to put a programme of policies before the electorate and seek support for it. He said it was possible Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Fine Gael could end up with a similar number of seats after the election.

Mr Dempsey said Fianna Fáil should have “a few bottom line issues” and the focus must be on policy. Agreement on policy issues could allow entry into coalition, “even if that means going in as the junior party”.

However, former minister for foreign affairs David Andrews said he believes the party should stay out of government for another term.

“My own view is Fianna Fáil will get between 35 and 40 seats [at the election], they should remain in opposition, grow themselves and skip a generation. The next government will be short-lived.”

Former minister for education Batt O’Keeffe said he would not like to see a coalition with Fine Gael for the sake of Fianna Fáil’s long-term future, but added: “Who knows? Fianna Fáil is a responsible party. We have to fight the election and look at its outcome.”

Pat Carey, who served as chief whip and minister for community and Gaeltacht affairs, said it was too early to be talking about possible future coalitions but said therewas no point in the major political parties, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and Labour, ruling out doing deals with other parties until after polling day.

Mr Carey also said politics is in a state of flux and may be on its way to break down along left-right European lines.

Speaking privately, another former cabinet minister said the time had come for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to align and create a left-right divide along European political lines.

Another said Fianna Fáil would be out of power for “100 years” unless it became realistic about entering government as the junior coalition party.