Politics: Could Varadkar and Sinn Féin do a deal?
One of the key issues in the forthcoming election campaign will be what coalition options the big parties are prepared to consider or rule out after polling day
Sharing a stage: BBC journalist Jonathan Dimbleby quizzing Leo Varadkar and Mary Lou McDonald for a broadcast recorded in late 2016 at Dublin Castle. “Since Varadkar became Taoiseach there has certainly been a thaw in relations between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin.” File photograph: Aidan Crawley
Minister of State Jim Daly has outraged some of his Fine Gael colleagues and delighted Sinn Féin by suggesting that the two parties could do a coalition deal at some stage. The timing of Daly’s comments could not have been worse, coming immediately after British Brexit secretary David Davies suggested that the hard line being taken by the Fine Gael-led Government on the border was a direct response to Sinn Féin pressure.
Daly’s intervention has ensured that when the election comes around Fine Gael will be pressed to state its position in clear, unequivocal terms
A spokesman for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar quickly dismissed Daly’s comments as inappropriate and went on to rule out any coalition or confidence and supply deal with Sinn Féin after the next election. Daly’s remarks flatly contradict that stance. He was clear that he had no ideological objection to going into government with Sinn Féin even if he expressed the view that the two parties would find it very difficult to agree a programme for government.
While this is not the first time in his short ministerial career that Daly has been disowned by the Taoiseach, his remarks cannot be dismissed so casually. He is not a disillusioned backbencher looking for publicity but one of the team that helped to get Varadkar elected party leader.
Daly was one of the most vocal critics of Enda Kenny and openly campaigned for a change of leadership. He was duly rewarded with promotion when his man became Taoiseach. The question is whether his views about the possibility of a deal with Sinn Féin represent a purely personal opinion or reflect an agenda being pursued by senior people in the party.
Since Varadkar became Taoiseach there has certainly been a thaw in relations between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin. It was notable that speaking on the anniversary of the Belfast Agreement last week Gerry Adams praised Varadkar while attacking Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
One of the key issues in the forthcoming election campaign will be what coalition options the big parties are prepared to consider or rule out after polling day, as no party is likely to be anywhere close to an overall majority. Varadkar has consistently ruled out coalition with Sinn Féin but in the light of Daly’s remarks, and similar ones some time ago from Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, he may have trouble convincing voters he can be trusted on the issue.
That could prove to be a damaging thorn in the side for Fine Gael during the campaign and may even push some of its supporters into the arms of Fianna Fáil, whose leader has been firm on the issue. At the very least it has undercut the ability of Fine Gael to claim that it is the only party which can be relied on not to bring Sinn Féin into government. Daly’s intervention has ensured that when the election comes around Fine Gael will be pressed to state its position in clear, unequivocal terms.