Ireland may not have its new government until after Easter as FF asks for a month’s grace
by Bernard Purcell
Ireland’s two civil war parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, seem set to share the reviewing stand for the 1916 Rising centenary parade on Easter Sunday as negotiations continue for a new Irish government.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin, whose party made a dramatic comeback to within just a handful of seats of Fine Gael, asked all parties for a month to agree Dail reform before a decision is made on the new government. This would mean no new government until after Easter at the earliest.
Mr Martin called on all parties to agree to a series of Dáil reforms including limits to be placed on the power of the government and greater oversight of new legislation and budgets. Mr. Kenny’s Fine Gael Labour coalition was frequently accused of behaving with arrogant high-handedness to opposition parties during its five years in power, something Mr. Martin would like to prevent happening again, and it also buys time.
The Dail is due to resume on 10 March but Enda Kenny’s badly defeated Fine Gael Labour coalition can stay on in office in a caretaker capacity until a coalition or minority government can be agreed.
Both Mr. Kenny and FF leader Michael Martin have steadfastly said they will not enter coalition with Sinn Fein – now the third largest party after Joan Burton’s Labour Party, Fine Gael’s junior coalition partner, was all but wiped out and relegated behind Sinn Fein. At the start of this week it was desperately hoping to win a seventh seat which would take it to the threshold that would give it speaking rights in Dail Eireann.
There is speculation that Mr. Martin and his party would prefer to support a minority Fine Gael government on which it could pull the plug at any time rather than enter formal coalition. Mr. Martin’s intervention echoed remarks by former Taoiseach and FF leader Bertie Ahern. Mr. Ahern resigned as Taoiseach in 2008 – a post he’d held since 1997 – following Mahon Tribunal revelations about cash gifts to him by businessmen.
He had led a coalition of Fianna Fail, the Green Party, the Progressive Democrats with support from Independents. This week he urged Irish voters to “be patient and let this play out the way it has to” rather than rush it and see the newly formed government collapse within weeks or months.
There was no question that Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael Labour coalition had been overwhelmingly rejected by voters, he said.
“There is no way, in my view, that this is going to be resolved before Easter. People can forget that.
“I don’t think the large percentage of people who voted on Friday went to the trouble of registering and going out and casting their vote, they didn’t vote for all of this to collapse in two or three weeks and have another election, that was not on any of their minds,” said Mr. Ahern.
Referring to speculation about a second general election this year he said: “Politicians are exhausted, they’ve spent a lot of money, their workers have taken leave, they won’t want a 2016 election. Some way will be found to make sure it’s not 2016.”
“It could happen, but that’s not what people voted for. In the period of time for people to look at it, I was watching some of the so-called ‘left’ parties, though I question that term those left parties saying ‘Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael, that’s the solution’.
No thought, no analysis that’s not the way to deal with this.”
“It’ll come down to a combination that there are a group of parties, maybe two parties, but a group of parties who are prepared to support a Taoiseach.
“I think that will happen, that government will be a minority government, clearly, because it won’t have the numbers but it’ll have sufficient support from outside or you’ll have a group of parties that will come together.
“I think you could have Independent Alliance going with either Fianna Fáil or you could have Fine Gael going with Fianna Fáil and Independent Alliance.
“Do I see a position today where it’ll just be a simple Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael? I find it very hard to see that.” A grand coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was still hard to see but the two parties could form a programme for government, he said.