Fine Gael Ministers want coalition deal with Fianna Fáil

Party leadership believes ‘grand coalition’ is only way to provide a stable government

Senior Fine Gael Ministers have agreed to approach Fianna Fáil on the formation of a grand coalition once tomorrow's Dáil vote on electing a taoiseach is out of the way.

Fine Gael is prepared, sources say, to offer a partnership deal to Fianna Fáil involving an equal number of cabinet ministries for each party, with the issue of a rotating taoiseach after a specific period a matter for negotiation.

While Fine Gael negotiating teams have been meeting with smaller parties and Independents over the past two days, the party leadership has come to the conclusion that a coalition with Fianna Fáil is the only way to provide a stable government.

Party preference

There is still strong resistance within Fianna Fáil to any form of coalition with Fine Gael.

The party preference is to remain outside government with a powerful Dáil team holding a minority Fine Gael administration to account.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is opposed to a coalition, as is most of his parliamentary party and the bulk of the party organisation, though some TDs have come out in favour of it.

Fianna Fáil’s internal rules require a special ardfheis to approve any coalition.

The party believes that coalition with Fine Gael would amount to a repudiation of the basic promise of its election campaign: to provide an alternative government to a Fine Gael-led administration.

The party also believes it would suffer politically in any such arrangement.

In spite of the obvious attractions of remaining in office with all of the cabinet positions at his disposal, the prospect of heading a minority government has not found favour with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

There is a strong fear at the highest levels in Fine Gael that the party could be left in office with responsibility for governing the country while Fianna Fáil has the luxury of dictating policy from the opposition benches.

“Responsibility without power is what appears to be on offer to us, and we are simply not interested,” one Fine Gael Minister told The Irish Times.

“Ultimately, Fianna Fáil will have to face the choice of a coalition or another election because a Fine Gael minority government when we are 30 seats short is simply not feasible.”

In meetings over recent days, the Taoiseach told Independent deputies that the need for stability might require Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to explore the possibility of a so-called grand coalition.

Fine Gael Ministers have echoed his view and say tentative contacts are likely to be made after tomorrow, when the new Dáil meets and, as expected, fails to elect a taoiseach.

Caretaker cabinet

If no taoiseach is elected, the current administration will continue in a caretaker capacity until the Dáil elects a new taoiseach, or, failing that, another election is called.

In his discussions with Galway Independent TD Noel Grealish, Mr Kenny is understood to have told him of his belief that a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is the only option.

The mood right across the Fine Gael parliamentary party is now running in favour of the coalition option, with a strong view that a deal with Independents would not provide stable government.

Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae met the Taoiseach again yesterday, following an earlier meeting at the end of last week.

Mr Healy-Rae last night said that while it was good that Mr Kenny and Mr Martin were speaking to Independents and small parties, he felt the process was a “side show”.

“This is all a build-up to the grand finale,” he said, “and the grand finale is when Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin sit down and talk to each other.

“I don’t see any other show in town, I really don’t. The sums aren’t working out.”