Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to put pressure back on smaller parties

Little sign new Labour leader Alan Kelly will change decision not to enter government

Labour Party  leader Alan Kelly: ‘It is up to other parties to take their responsibilities seriously and it is up to them to form a stable government.’  File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly: ‘It is up to other parties to take their responsibilities seriously and it is up to them to form a stable government.’ File photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will seek to put the focus back on the smaller parties this week, agreeing a statement of principles to guide any new government and seeking to engage with Labour, the Social Democrats and the Green Party about how a new administration could be formed.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin are likely to circulate the statement of principles to the smaller parties and seek to meet their leaders in a bid to find a way forward with them.

There is not expected to be any change in their unwillingness to talk to Sinn Féin about forming a government, which both parties ruled out during and since the general election.

There is some hope in both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that Labour could be persuaded to engage on government formation after the party elected Alan Kelly as its new leader on Friday.

Mr Kelly defeated Aodhán Ó Ríordáin by 1,047 votes to 868 in a postal ballot counted on Friday – a margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent

Mr Kelly said on Twitter that it was his “greatest honour” to be elected the 13th leader of the Labour party.

But he gave little indication that he was ready to change the party’s decision not to enter government.

“As leader I will of course continue to engage with all parties but when it comes to forming a government we have been very clear since the general election, that it is up to other parties to take their responsibilities seriously and it is up to them to form a stable government,” he said in a statement.

Deal

However, with or without smaller party involvement, there is now an expectation in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil that a deal can be done in the coming weeks. A number of independent TDs have privately indicated their willingness to support a government, sources say, though they will require a variety of national and local concessions to ensure their support.

Mr Martin faces some disquiet in his own party over such a deal, though if – as expected – he secures first run in the taoiseach’s office for Fianna Fáil it will ease some of the objections.

On Sunday, Éamon Ó Cuív – long a contrary voice to Mr Martin’s leadership – questioned an “assumption in media reporting over the last few days that FF members will automatically endorse an agreement arrived at by leadership of FG and FF.

“From what I hear speaking to FF local reps & members across the country, this could be way off the mark,” Mr Ó Cuív said in a tweet.

“There is serious disquiet within the party about forming such a long-term coalition. FF is a membership-led party and it is the members, acting collectively, that are the ultimate authority within the party,” he said.

Membership ballot

The question of membership approval – necessary under Fianna Fail’s rules for any participation in government – also raises the issue of how such approval might be obtained.

Under the Covid-19 lockdown, the normal course of action of holding a special ard fheis cannot happen. Senior party figures have considered how they might hold a postal ballot, if such were needed. However, as one admitted this weekend: “Nobody has any idea how it might work.”

The final results of the Seanad election confirmed that the two parties will have a majority in the upper house if they form a government.

Fianna Fáil won 16 seats, while Fine Gael has 12, down from 14 in the last Seanad. A Government requires a minimum of 31 for a majority in the 60-seat Upper House, but a new Taoiseach would have the right to nominate 11 senators directly, giving the two parties a comfortable majority.

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