Labour TD says party should consider taking part in government

Seán Sherlock says Labour should be open to going in with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

Seán Sherlock of the Labour Party: strong supporter of Alan Kelly for the party leadership. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Seán Sherlock of the Labour Party: strong supporter of Alan Kelly for the party leadership. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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A senior Labour Party TD has said the party should consider coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael if no other option works out.

In a significant development, Cork East TD Seán Sherlock became the first of the party’s six-strong Dáil group to say publicly that Labour should not exclude itself from government-formation talks.

“A lot of people have contacted me about that possibility,” he said. “It is something that is increasingly coming into focus in my view,” he said.

“If the Green Party and the Social Democrats rule out coalition with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and if a government of national unity does not come about, then it is something that Labour needs to consider if it means that a stable government can be established.”

After a disappointing election in which it lost one seat from its 2016 result, the Labour Party decided it would be better off going into opposition for this Dáil term, in order to rebuild the party.

Leader Brendan Howlin subsequently announced he was standing down. The outcome of the month-long leadership contest between Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Alan Kelly will be known next weekend.

The coronavirus emergency, in addition to decisions by other small parties to rule themselves out of a coalition involving Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, is seen by some within the Labour Party as having changed the dynamic. There has been speculation that a new leader could signal a change of strategy by the party in favour of talks on government formation.

Kelly supporter

Mr Sherlock is a strong supporter of Mr Kelly in the leadership race. However, other supporters of the Tipperary TD have continued to express opposition to the party going into government now.

Mr Ó Ríordáin said: “Labour will play our part to help lead the country through this crisis and through the recovery. But government with [Labour holding] six seats with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who will quickly return to type after this emergency, is not where the Labour Party belongs.

“We are halfway through this leadership election, and both sides agree it’s extremely tight. We’re confident of the level of support we are receiving. I don’t know what Alan Kelly’s view is but mine is clear.”

Dublin councillor and Seanad candidate Rebecca Moynihan echoed that view. “We haven’t got a mandate to go into government,” she said. “There are other parties with bigger mandates who are in a better position to govern.”

Another senior Labour figure who has backed Mr Kelly said privately: “ I think it would be an awful lot to ask of the Labour Party [who lost a seat] to go in with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and let the Greens [who quadrupled their mandate] and SocDems [who tripled their mandate] continue in virtuous opposition and go back to trying to kill us.

“I would be surprised if either candidate for the leadership thought differently.”

Challenging time

The Green Party and the Social Democrats have strongly ruled out any arrangement with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The former wants a government of national unity to be formed for the duration of the crisis. The Social Democrats have said they may be willing to talk with one of the parties but not with both together.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that a coalition involving his party and Fianna Fáil, supported only by Independents, would not work as it would not give the State a stable government in what would be a very difficult, chastened, and economically challenging time as Ireland struggled to recover from Covid-19.

The nine-strong regional group of Independents is seen as the most likely target, although other Independents such as Michael Fitzmaurice, Michael McNamara, Marian Harkin – as well as some of the rural group of six TDs, including Mattie McGrath and the Healy-Raes – are also said to be interested.