Fianna Fail has opened lines of communication with smaller parties

Micheál Martin tells party meeting he has had discussions with a view to winning support

Fianna Fáil has opened lines of communications with the Green Party, the Social Democrats and “gene-pool” Independent TDs with a view to wining support for Micheál Martin’s nomination as Taoiseach.

Mr Martin told the first meeting of the enlarged Fianna Fáil Dáil group, comprising 44 TDs in total, he had spoken to Eamon Ryan of the Greens, and Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats over the past few days.

He also disclosed he opened up preliminary discussions with a number of unnamed Independents.

A Fianna Fáil source with knowledge of the discussion said they were “very polite” but no commitment had been given.

“The focus at the moment on Micheál Martin’s part is March 10th and the vote for Taoiseach. He is asking for support and also talking about political reform.

“The business of trying to sort out something longer-term will not really start until the end of next week,” said the source.

Mr Martin said the parties had not given any indication of their key negotiating positions, but the Social Democrats had urged the party to make movement on water charges.

Red-line issue

Some members of the Fianna Fáil party at Thursday’s meeting had expressed concern about a statement by Fianna Fail’s environment spokesman Barry Cowen that abolition of water charges and Irish Water was a party red-line issue.

The TDs said the party’s policy on the issue was unclear, and urged Mr Martin to make the position clearer.

The party leader said this was not a red-line issue for the party despite the claims of Mr Cowen.

Mr Martin urged Fianna Fáil TDs to stick on message about their key position.

He said any negotiations would centre on Dáil reform which was key, as was tackling homelessness.

A Dublin-based TD said Thursday’s meeting focused on the nominations for Taoiseach next Thursday.

A good portion of the meeting was taken up by discussions on the ceann comhairle position.

“Our biggest focus is maximising the number of votes for Micheál Martin as Taoiseach.

“In terms of longer-term solutions, the next parliamentary party meeting on Monday will be more vital,” said the Deputy, who spoke on condition of not being named.

At the meeting a number of Deputies urged the party leadership to do whatever it could to avoid a second election, insisting it was not what the country wanted.

Three elections

Speaking later the Limerick TD Willie O’Dea said he remembered the experience of 1981 and 1982 where there were three elections in quick succession. He would prefer if that experience was not repeated.

It is understood some members questioned the merits of supporting a Fine Gael-minority government.

A grand coalition was firmly ruled out by the party, but TDs questioned what benefit Fianna Fáil would gain from such an arrangement.

The Dublin TD reflected that view, saying: “I do not see any scenario where we will coalesce.”

For its part the Green Party confirmed it had held four or five meetings with different parties or groups, but that most had been informal, comprising of little more than “soundings”.

Privately, senior Green Party members say they find it difficult to see how either Fine Gael with 50 seats, or Fianna Fáil with 44 seats, could be in a position to lead a minority government.

They pointed out that the numbers were very different when the Tallaght strategy was pursued 30 years ago, and that administration was very clearly defined by budget parameters.

“It is worrying on one level if something is not resolved,” said a senior Green source.

“There are very complex issues like Brexit, migration, housing, and health coming down the line. It’s not just the budget.”

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