FG and FF too strong to form grand coalition, says Coveney

Tánaiste says Sinn Féin partnership will only happen if party changes ‘and pigs can fly’

Tánaiste  Simon Coveney: “I think that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will both do well in the next election, and people see the country is moving in the right direction.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: “I think that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will both do well in the next election, and people see the country is moving in the right direction.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

A so-called grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is unlikely to ever happen because both parties are returning to strength as the economy improves, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr Coveney also echoed comments from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who said he would like to see the current confidence-and-supply deal between the two parties extended.

The deal, which underpins the Fine Gael-led minority government, commits Fianna Fáil to facilitating the passage of three budgets, the last of which will be introduced next October.

Mr Coveney, a Cork South-Central TD and Minister for Foreign Affairs, was part of the Fine Gael negotiating team in advance of the Government’s formation.

Enda Kenny, the former party leader, made an offer of a grand coalition – complete with rotating Taoiseach – to Fianna Fáil, but it was turned down. Mr Coveney said that offer is unlikely to be repeated.

“I think that was a moment in time where the country was in a very difficult place, where Enda Kenny felt there was a need to make a significant offer to try to provide stability at a very sensitive moment for Ireland. ”

He said “extraordinary times call for extraordinary political measures” and it is now “unlikely you’ll see a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil government”.

“I think Ireland is moving back to a more balanced space. I think that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will both do well in the next election, and people see the country is moving in the right direction.

“You will see competitive politics of the centre coming from both and I think either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael will lead the next government. I certainly hope it will be Fine Gael, I am pretty confident that it can be.”

Successful coalition

On potential government partners, Mr Coveney said Fine Gael previously had a successful coalition with Labour, and also said he would enter government with the Green Party and Independents.

Sinn Féin, he said, would not be a suitable partner for Fine Gael unless it “fundamentally changes” and moves to the centre ground.

“And pigs can fly. I think Sinn Féin are in a very different political space to us and they are still very much a protest party. They thrive on division and discontent in communities.”

Mr Varadkar has said he does not want to see the current confidence-and-supply deal “drop dead” after the next budget, when the agreement is set to be reviewed.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, however, says he wants delivery in areas such as health and housing and will not give Fine Gael a “free pass”.

Mr Coveney also said he hopes the deal can be extended to take in a fourth budget.

“I hope that we don’t have an election for the sake of party politics. I don’t think it is good for the country to have an unnecessary election in the middle of a Brexit negotiation and in the middle of trying to get on top of a housing crisis.

“There are two of us in it. This is also an issue for Fianna Fáil. To be fair to them, once the confidence-and-supply agreement is concluded and we are essentially renegotiating it, then who knows?”