Friday 17 November 2017

We’re heading for stalemate as FG and FF try to figure out ‘earthquake’ result

Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny now face the prospect of forming a coalition
Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny now face the prospect of forming a coalition

THE country will be run by a caretaker government for months as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail struggle to deal with the fallout of an unprecedented election result.

The deposed coalition, including ministers who were dumped by voters, will meet as early as tomorrow to discuss how to continue in power despite their losses.

A stalemate situation is developing as Taoiseach Enda Kenny attempts to “buy time” for his leadership and Micheal Martin assesses whether he should risk supporting a minority government.


Both parties accept that a new government will not be formed by the time the Dail meets on March 10 to elect a Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton spoke yesterday and agreed to hold a Cabinet meeting that will include James Reilly and Alex White, who have lost their seats.

Fianna Fail sources said Mr Martin is in “no panic” to talk with other parties about potential coalition options, though it is likely he will be proposed as Taoiseach when the Dail convenes. His party has more than doubled its seats but will still be about 10 behind Fine Gael once all the ballots are counted.

“We will wait until the dust settles. It’s a really good result for Fianna Fail but the onus is still on Fine Gael to make the first move,” said a party source.

Together, Fine Gael and Fianna  Fail will have more than the 80 seats needed for a coalition, but working out a coalition will be difficult.

Speculation is also rife within Fine Gael that Enda Kenny’s term as leader is coming to an end after a disastrous result that saw the party lose more than 20 seats.

He has indicated that he will remain as Taoiseach in the national interest until a new government is formed.

Ms Burton said she will support the re-election of Mr Kenny as Taoiseach if that is proposed on March 10, but acknowledged there is likely to be a deadlock.

In that event, President  Michael D Higgins may request the outgoing government to stay on for a further period until a new one can be formed. 

Fine Gael’s director of elections Brian Hayes told the Herald that coalition talks will take months.

“This is going to be a very complicated, slow but public process,” he said. “The electorate have thrown up a result that we now have to interpret and understand.

“We said we wouldn’t go in with Fianna Fail, they said they wouldn’t go in with us. That is the de facto position, so if people are going to move from positions like that it’s going to take time.”

Mr Hayes said Fine Gael had lost the election and there was now a “fundamental responsibility” for all parties to talk to each other. 

“I’m very much opposed to this idea that we can in some way go back to the electorate and say, ‘Let’s have another election, please, because we don’t like the result’. That’s utter nonsense. The people have spoken,” he said.


Fianna Fail was keen last night to play down the idea of a “grand coalition” with Fine Gael which Mr Martin had repeatedly ruled out.

Fianna Fail general secretary Sean Dorgan said “enormous difference” exists between the two parties and politicians need to “assess what’s happened”.

“There’s a very clear message being sent from the electorate, so parliament needs to take its responsibility very seriously. The days with a massive majority are over,” he said.

“We’re Europeanising our government. I think Micheal Martin will be proposed as Taoiseach on March 10, but it’s not as simple as two plus two is four.”

Fianna Fail will have both Dublin representatives and women swelling its ranks when the Dail returns.

The party is likely to end up with 42 seats when the voting concludes, with all but one of its outgoing TDs returning.

The result marks a massive comeback for Fianna Fail, which collected 24.3pc of first preference votes this time compared with 17.4pc in 2011.

Mr Martin said the party had fought the campaign on “getting fairness back into Irish politics and getting this Fine Gael-Labour government out of office”.

“We have listened to the Irish people. We have worked hard to listen to what the Irish people had to say,” he said. “We will now listen very carefully to the message they spelled out at the ballot box.”

Darragh O’Brien and John Curran will be returning after losing their seats five years ago, while Jim O’Callaghan, John Lahart and Jack Chambers will be first-time TDs. Sean Haughey is all but certain to take a seat in Dublin Bay North. 

Mr Chambers, who won back the seat once held by Brian Lenihan in Dublin West, paid tribute to the late finance minister in his victory speech, describing him as “a real patriot” who “inspired my own interest in politics”.

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