FG 'has upper-hand' as Kenny set for round table talks with 17 TDs
Seventeen TDs have accepted an invitation from acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny to take part in round table talks today on forming the next Government.
Fine Gael believes it now has the upper-hand on Fianna Fail in the race to win over independents and smaller parties.
Five rural TDs believe they have "called the bluff" of both parties by publicly stating they are willing to work with Fine Gael on a programme for government.
Pressure is now mounting on Mr Kenny to make contact with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and ask him to support a Fine Gael-led minority government.
However, sources told the Herald that Fianna Fail is still not contemplating a situation where Mr Kenny is Taoiseach.
"One thing we have definitely done is forced the hands of the two big parties. We called their bluff," said Roscommon TD Denis Naughten.
"Fine Gael has the numbers now for a minority government. It's very tight but it's workable."
Mr Naughten said he, Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins, Michael Harty and Noel Grealish will vote as a block when the Dail tries to elect a Taoiseach on April 6.
The so-called Rural Five have also made life uncomfortable for Shane Ross' Independent Alliance, which is struggling to maintain a united front.
Fine Gael has made great efforts to win over the Alliance's rural members, and in the process sidelined Dublin-based Mr Ross and Finian McGrath.
Mr McGrath said last night that they were at a "different level" to Mr Naughten's group.
"We need concrete proposals. We have to see what's on offer and go away and digest that. We're not going to go running in saying 'you're great'," he said.
"We're going to play our cards close to our chest. If there is messing around then we're out of there."
Among those attending today's meeting will be Michael and Danny Healy-Rae, Katherine Zappone and Maureen O'Sullivan.
Jobs Minister Richard Burton is to be added to the Fine Gael negotiating team that currently consists of Simon Coveney, Frances Fitzgerald, Leo Varadkar and Simon Harris.
It is understood the agenda consists of eight key headings including health, housing, tax, rural Ireland and disabilities.
Sources said the initial session will involve all 17 TDs and the Fine Gael team laying out their stalls.
If that goes well, there will be breakout sessions where TDs will be divided into the areas where they are most keen to have an input.