Independent TDs urge FF and FG to set deadline for coalition talks

Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin to meet leaders of smaller parties in coalition bid

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, he is seeking to entice a third party into a historic coalition arrangement.   Photograph: Brian Lawless

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, he is seeking to entice a third party into a historic coalition arrangement. Photograph: Brian Lawless

 

The largest group of Independent TDs in the Dáil has urged Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to set a deadline for a decision by smaller parties to enter a coalition arrangement with them.

In a shot across the bows to the two bigger parties, the Regional Group has also said it must be treated as an “equal partner” in any government-formation talks and not as an afterthought to make up numbers.

The group held talks with the chief negotiators for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on Monday, as part of a series of meetings involving groups of Independent TDs potentially interested in joining a coalition.

The Regional Group’s convenor, Denis Naughten, said the meeting had been constructive but he also implicitly criticised the pace of negotiations.

He said a deadline was needed on when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael expect a decision from smaller parties on whether they will enter discussions on the formation of government. Such a deadline would allow substantive talks to get under way.

“The public needs leadership that can only be provided by a stable government with a clear mandate and this needs to happen quickly.

“We have made it clear we are willing to engage in meaningful talks on a programme for government – but only as an equal partner in such discussions and not as a last-minute addition to make up numbers,” Mr Naughten said.

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Third party

He said the urgency of the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic made it “imperative” to begin substantive talks on a programme for government.

It also emerged that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin plan to hold individual meetings with other party leaders in the coming days in an effort to entice a third party into a historic coalition arrangement.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael met on Monday the three members of the six-strong Independent Group who have expressed an interest in exploring coalition.

Michael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway), Marian Harkin (Sligo-Leitrim) and Michael McNamara (Clare) held talks for two hours in Leinster House with Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary and Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Both parties have been emphasising their desire to have a third party on board, and have also told Independent TDs of plans for leader-to-leader meetings with the smaller parties.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Fitzmaurice and Mr McNamara separately described the meeting as “constructive”, but both also said it was preliminary.

Nuanced position

Mr Coveney was adamant that Fine Gael would not agree to a coalition arrangement unless it involved a third party. Fianna Fáil’s position in relation to a third party has been more nuanced, and the party has been careful not to insist on it as a precondition.

It was disclosed that arrangements were under way to hold separate leader-to-leader meetings with Eamon Ryan of the Green Party, Alan Kelly of the Labour Party, and Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy of the Social Democrats. It is expected the meetings will take place in the coming days, or early next week.

The three Independent TDs have already drafted a 7,000-word briefing document ranging across a wide range of issues, including inequality, health, housing, climate change, agriculture, transport, rural Ireland and regionalisation. Much of it was drafted before the full impact of the Covid-19 crisis became apparent.

Mr Fitzmaurice said that both its document, and the joint framework document drafted by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, were discussed at the meeting with both sides raising questions and seeking clarity.

Mr McNamara said that a big thing he took from the meeting was that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáíl were “steadfast” in their desire to have a third party on board.