FG, FF set to agree principles to form new government
Senior officials begin work on a programme for national recovery
There is now a confidence in Fianna Fáil that Micheál Martin will become Taoiseach if a new government is formed, with the role reverting to Fine Gael in two years. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw / The Irish Times
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil expect to agree a statement of principles to underpin a future government and to circulate the document to other party leaders – except Sinn Féin – this week.
In addition, senior officials have begun work on a programme for national recovery to plan for an economic upturn once the coronavirus crisis has passed.
It is expected that the programme for recovery will seek to maintain investments in health and housing, though expenditure in other areas – including some capital spending – is likely to be curtailed.
Sources in both parties say that the barriers to a coalition agreement between the two parties are falling away. There is now a confidence in Fianna Fáil that Micheál Martin will become Taoiseach if a new government is formed, with the role reverting to Fine Gael in two years.
The two parties will speak on Monday with a view towards agreeing a more detailed framework document outlining the priorities for the new government. They will also seek to draft a statement of principles which they will ask the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party to consider as a basis for renewed talks.
The statement of principles is likely to commit to a “people-centred” economic recovery, as well as committing the future government to action on health, housing and climate change. However, it will not contain any policy detail or commitments, it is understood.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin are also likely to invite the leaders of the Greens, Labour and Social Democrats – but not Sinn Féin – to a meeting later this week or next week in a bid to kickstart new talks and break the logjam in government formation. However, there is little confidence in either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael that any of the small parties can be brought on board.
Consequently, there are intensive contacts with independent TDs with a view to persuading as many as possible to back a FF-FG coalition. Between them, the two parties have 72 votes in the Dáil, but 80 are needed to form a bare majority, so the support of at least eight independents is needed. Both big parties would prefer to have the Greens, Labour or Social Democrats as part of the coalition, though sources admit this is unlikely at present.
While the two parties are clearly moving towards a coalition deal, there is a great deal of uncertainty about when exactly such a government could be formed.
The Dáil is adjourned until Thursday April 16th but neither side expects a deal to be concluded by then. In addition, senior figures on both sides say they will wait to assess the impact of the coronavirus in the coming weeks when health service leaders expect a surge of cases.