Martin under pressure from FF TDs to form government

Fianna Fáil deputies warn Martin’s leadership may come into question over the issue

Micheál Martin last month told his parliamentary party that a new government may not be formed until April. Photograph: Alan Betson

Micheál Martin last month told his parliamentary party that a new government may not be formed until April. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Fianna Fáil TDs are privately warning that Micheál Martin must assemble a government by the end of April or his leadership of the party will come under pressure.

Government formation talks continue this week, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael due to hold a policy exchange meeting in the coming days.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he intends leading Fine Gael into opposition, but his party will hold policy meetings with the Green Party on Monday. The Greens have also held meetings with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin in recent weeks, and sources in both of the larger parties have said they want the pace of the negotiations to quicken.

One Fianna Fáil TD said the public health and economic threat posed by the coronavirus should encourage all parties to accelerate the government formation process.

Mr Martin last month told his parliamentary party that a new government may not be formed until April. Some of his TDs have privately said the Cork South Central TD’s leadership of Fianna Fáil will come into question if a government is not in place by the end of next month.

One member of the Fianna Fáil frontbench said the leadership of the party was not being actively discussed, despite a call from outgoing party senator Keith Swanick for Mr Martin to resign.

Mr Swanick was involved in controversy last year over revelations that he had recorded his presence in Leinster House while rarely voting. Mr Martin said he had questions to answer on the issue.

The frontbench TD privately said it was “quiet” in Fianna Fáil on Mr Martin’s leadership while government talks continued.

“All quiet awaiting to see where this goes,” the TD said. “If it goes nowhere, he’s gone.” It was added that Mr Martin would be given “max” until the end of April.

Another senior TD said: “There will be six to eight weeks of a period given. Everyone is ready for at least another six weeks of this process.”

Untenable position

Other TDs said if Mr Martin brought a proposal for a coalition involving Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens to a special ardfheis but lost a vote of party members on such a government, his position would be untenable.

However, it is stressed by Fianna Fáil TDs that they want Mr Martin to become taoiseach. A coalition involving Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens is mentioned most often as a potential government but there is significant resistance to the idea in each of the parties.

“The grassroots and the councillors are very opposed,” one Fianna Fáil TD said. “The grand coalition is still the most likely but, as time goes on, that could fall through the cracks as well.”

Another TD added: “The biggest issue now is with the membership base in Fianna Fáil.”

It comes as some sources in both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil say the government talks process must speed up, in particular their engagements with the Green Party.

A Sinn Féin source said the party was “very keen for these engagements to accelerate a bit”, adding: “At some point, people are going to have to decide if they are up for this or not.”

Sinn Féin is seeking to assemble a government of the left under Mary Lou McDonald as taoiseach. In a series of rallies last week, Ms McDonald said her party, the Greens and the Social Democrats capitalised on a mood for change at the recent general election.

A senior Fianna Fáil TD said the talks could not drag on for months against the backdrop of the threat of the coronavirus and increased Brexit tensions.

“We can’t have this charade going on,” the TD said.