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Tuesday 27 September 2016

Cunning Kenny made Fianna Fail an offer they could never accept

A second general election has just become much more likely. That is the main upshot of Enda Kenny's grand coalition offer to Micheal Martin, which may have been historic but could never be taken at face value.

In reality it was a clever ploy by the acting Taoiseach designed to put Fianna Fail on the back foot - and so far it is working like a dream.

By all accounts, Martin went into Wednesday night's meeting expecting nothing more than a preliminary 'getting to know you' session.

Instead he immediately found himself floored by a full-blown marriage proposal.

Kenny seized the initiative with his suggestion of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fail "partnership government", handing out cabinet positions on a 50-50 basis and throwing in a few Independent TDs for good measure.

Dramatic

This dramatic scenario was soon dead in the water. By Thursday lunchtime the Fianna Fail parliamentary party had overwhelmingly rejected it, just as Kenny must have known they would.

Even if Martin was tempted, any coalition deal has to be approved by a special party Ard Fheis - and all the evidence shows that most Soldiers of Destiny would rather swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen of England.

So why did Enda bother? The balance of power in Leinster House is now so delicate that every action by its main players has to be examined for ulterior motives.

When the wily French diplomat Talleyrand died in 1838, one of his rivals remarked, "I wonder what he meant by that?" - and many Fianna Failers are asking themselves the same question today.

The answer lies in Kenny's full Wednesday night statement, which contained two equally important parts.

As well as reaching out a hand of friendship to Fianna Fail, he made the stunning claim that a minority government led by either party simply will not work.

In other words, Martin's refusal could make another general election more or less inevitable - with some TDs already marking May 27 in their diaries as a possible date.

If Election 2016 Mark II does come to pass, then Fine Gael should be well placed to win the blame game. Their mantra will be: "We did our best to give you a stable government, but Fianna Fail threw it back in our face."

Result

Of course, there is still no guarantee that the voters would deliver a different result - but from Enda's point of view it might well be worth a try.

This explains why the Taoiseach has been able to execute such a massive u-turn while keeping all of his own troops on board.

It is just six weeks since an election campaign in which he repeatedly insisted that Fianna Fail were not fit to run a sweetshop.

Now Kenny says he is willing to let them into Government Buildings - and even leadership rivals such as Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald are apparently right behind him.

As a result, Micheal Martin has some serious thinking to do this weekend.

The party has been left with three basic options - all of which are difficult, to say the least.

One is for Martin to carry on with his attempts to form a minority government with Independents, even though it looks like a mathematical impossibility.

Another is to offer support for a Fine Gael-led minority government, knocking the ball back into Kenny's court.

Finally, Micheal could always say that he was a bit hasty in rejecting the Taoiseach's offer and suggest discussing it in more detail - which would be worth it if only to see the look on Enda's face.

Charlie Haughey famously described his protege Bertie Ahern as "the most skilful, most devious and most cunning of them all".

Enda Kenny's manoeuvres this week have shown that he is no slouch himself - but there is still a long way to go before he can lay claim to Bertie's title.

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