Micheál Martin tells Independents: Put up or shut up

Analysis: High-stakes move tests resolve of Independents who claim to support Fianna Fáil

 Independents said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s move was putting a gun to their heads. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Independents said Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin’s move was putting a gun to their heads. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

 

So this is now the endgame of the endgame, and Micheál Martin has told the Independent TDs to put up or shut up.

It is a high-stakes move. The Fianna Fáil leader is testing the resolve of the Independent deputies who say they would support him if they could, but believe the numbers are with Enda Kenny.

Many say they would find it easier to support Fine Gael if Mr Kenny was not leader. But that choice is not theirs – the one in the Dáil today is.

In telling the 15 Independent TDs involved in talks with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that today is their last chance to vote for him as taoiseach, Martin has forced them to confront that choice.

Since the weekend, Fianna Fáil has been making noises that the Independents must soon realise that another abstention is a vote for Kenny.

The Independents last night said the Fianna Fáil leader’s move was putting a gun to their heads. He was still personally canvassing support for his candidacy, indicating he believes he is still in the game.

Fianna Fáil sources say Martin must achieve an extra seven or so votes for him to fight on. Achieving that tally by the time the Dáil votes later today will be no small feat. At this juncture, it looks almost impossible.

The five TDs of the Rural Alliance and the six from the Independent Alliance will meet this morning to discuss the vote. The former may vote against both Kenny and Martin, with the latter likely to abstain.

Other Independents in the talks process – Katherine Zappone, Maureen O’Sullivan and the Healy-Rae brothers – are also likely to abstain or vote against both Kenny and Martin. Such an outcome would get Martin off the hook of demanding Fine Gael support a minority government – a concession Fine Gael was never going to grant. Fine Gael knew if this happened the Independents would run into Fianna Fáil arms.

Privately, Fianna Fáil has long said a Fine Gael-led minority government is the most likely option. Martin’s move is an acknowledgement of that fact, and an effort to bring matters to a head.

If Martin is to take himself off the pitch, the question then turns to what type of minority government will be formed. How many Independent TDs will support a Fine Gael-led administration? How solid will their support be? In an ideal world, Fine Gael would like Fianna Fáil support for a five-year term. Fianna Fáil would be more comfortable with less.

But many in Leinster House yesterday felt that a Fine Gael minority government with the support of only six or seven Independents will be lucky to last months.

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