Fine Gael gains ground in move to woo smaller parties

Senior party figures say more than 60 Dáil votes for Enda Kenny can be secured

Fine Gael is hopeful of retaining the support of the Labour Party for Enda Kenny in any vote for taoiseach. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Fine Gael is hopeful of retaining the support of the Labour Party for Enda Kenny in any vote for taoiseach. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Fine Gael is making progress in efforts to convince Independents and small parties to back a minority government on the basis of an agreed programme and cabinet seats.

Fianna Fáil’s attempt to assemble more supporters for Micheál Martin than there are for acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny, in the next vote for taoiseach on April 6th, appear to be faltering following a number of recent meetings.

Senior Fine Gael figures now believe they can secure Dáil votes numbering in the 60s for Mr Kenny if the negotiations continue progressing well. While still well below a Dáil majority of 79, this would put Mr Kenny in a strong position to form a minority government with cabinet positions going to Independents and small party representatives.

Fine Gael is also hopeful of retaining the support of the Labour Party for Mr Kenny in any vote for taoiseach. Labour voted for the Fine Gael leader when the Dáil met a week ago, but has indicated it will not join a new administration.

Crucially however, Fine Gael would still require the co-operation of Fianna Fáil to ensure that a minority administration was viable over the medium term.

This is acknowledged by senior sources in both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, though no contacts between the big two parties are anticipated until negotiations with the Independents run their course.

Rural Independents

Fine Gael ministers reported to the Taoiseach on the progress of the talks at a meeting in Government Buildings on Wednesday night. The full parliamentary party is likely to discuss the efforts to put together a government when the Dáil meets on Tuesday, but further negotiations are unlikely before next week. The Taoiseach has also met several of the independent TDs himself.

The loose grouping of rural Independents is made up of Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins and Michael Harty.

Sources on both sides say the talks have gone well and have been based on policy issues affecting rural Ireland rather than the constituency demands of individual TDs.

Fine Gael Ministers have also been in talks with other Independents including Katherine Zappone, Maureen O’Sullivan and Thomas Pringle.

Minority government

Meanwhile, planned talks with the Social Democrats earlier this week came to nothing when the smaller party announced that it was not interested in doing a deal with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil.

The party’s three TDs met Fianna Fáil on Tuesday but, in a statement afterwards, said Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should co-operate to form a majority or minority government. A Fianna Fáil spokesman described the decision by the Social Democrats as “disappointing”, particularly after Tuesday’s meeting, which was described as “positive”.

The party’s negotiating team of Michael McGrath, Barry Cowen, Jim O’Callaghan and Charlie McConalogue met both the Independent Alliance group of deputies on Wednesday, and the group of rural Independents, and is due to provide them with policy papers on Friday.