Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiating teams are set to commence formal talks later today with a view to agreeing the shape of a minority government that could run for 2½ years.
The initiative was agreed between outgoing Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin Bay South Jim O'Callaghan, at the latter's home on Saturday morning.
Following bitter exchanges between the parties last week following Fianna Fáil’s rejection of Fine Gael’s partnership plan, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were involved in back-channel communications ahead of the weekend.
According to those close to the process, there is now a clear understanding the focus is on a minority government, probably led by Enda Kenny.
Publicly Fianna Fáil has insisted Micheál Martin may yet win enough support from Independent TDs to close the gap with Fine Gael.
Fine Gael has not ruled out the possibility of a Fianna Fáil government but has expressed doubts.
Reality of leader
Outgoing Minister for Transport
repeatedly questioned the reality of a Mr Martin-led coalition yesterday: “My own view is that a Fianna Fáil minority government cannot deliver the stability the country needs,” he said on
Privately, senior Fianna Fáil figures say Fine Gael is in a stronger position.
In his speech at the Liam Lynch Commemoration in Newcastle, Co Tipperary, yesterday Mr Martin was conciliatory towards his party supporting a minority government, once reforms were in place to rebalance the Oireachtas and the Executive.
“We are offering a major compromise. We are not refusing to change. We will agree to a process which can allow a government to be formed and for that government to have reasonable security based on a fully transparent framework.”
The four-person team from Fianna Fáil will be led by Michael McGrath, and include Mr O'Callaghan, Charlie McConalogue and Barry Cowen.
Fine Gael's team is likely to include Mr Varadkar and Simon Coveney.
Deputies from both parties and the Independent benches who spoke to The Irish Times yesterday were in agreement an arrangement was needed that would last 2½ years or three budgets.
“I do not see why it would not last that long,” said Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien.
“All of us realise the day of majority government is over. This idea that we put them in and take them out in a year or 18 months, that is not in anybody’s interest.”
Finian McGrath, Michael Fitzmaurice, Katherine Zappone and Maureen O'Sullivan also said they wanted a government that would last at least three budgets.
“If there is some kind of compromise that gives us at least two to three years, which is the least you need to deal with health and housing in particular, then it will work,” said Ms O’Sullivan.
Ms Zappone said she sought a move towards more progressive policies and perspective, including Dáil reform.
All parties are of the view a written agreement is needed but Fianna Fáil is likely to insist it will be a framework document, pledging support for confidence and finance motions, but not other specific issues.
Their stances on water charges might be a stumbling block but a senior Fine Gael source insisted the gaps were “over-hyped”.
Sources said it was unlikely agreement could be reached by Thursday – when the Dáil meets for the third time to nominate a taoiseach – but said it might be achieved by next week.