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Fianna Fáil TDs to hold first meeting as big question remains: Will they consider coalition with Sinn Féin?

The party will meet at noon today.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE REDUCED FIANNA Fáil parliamentary party will meet today for the first time since the election.

The meeting, which will take place in Leinster House is set to focus on the outcome of the general election as well as the possibility of a potential power deal with Sinn Féin or Fine Gael. 

Prior to polling day, party leader Micheál Martin stated that he envisaged a government led by him involving smaller parties such as the Green Party, the Social Democrats and Labour.

Following such a poor election performance from the party, which saw its seats drop from 46 to 38, such an arrangement appears out of reach for the Cork TD.

Instead, far less palatable options are open to Martin – a coalition with Sinn Féin, perhaps with the Green Party, which could act as a buffer, or what some Fianna Fáil supporters might see as unconscionable – a grand coalition with Fine Gael.

Martin has made contact with the leaders of the smaller parties, such as Labour in recent days. Labour said yesterday that it did not have a mandate to enter government and believed the two of the three parties which returned with the most seats should bite the bullet and form a stable government.

While Martin has been speaking to the smaller parties, so too has Mary Lou McDonald, who held meetings with People Before Profit and the Green Party yesterday.

Speculation is rife about how long government formation talks will end up and who will go in with who.

A senior Fine Gael source has predicted that after much back and forth between Sinn Féin and the smaller parties, talks will commence with Fianna Fáil, only for that to cause a major divide within that party. As the months roll by, pressure will mount on politicians to form a government, this Fine Gael source believes, and that in the end, a grand coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will be the most likely outcome. 

However, others within Leinster House have stated that Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil in government together is more achievable. The big obstacle is that the party said it would not do so before the election, something Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan has been at pains to point out in recent days. 

TheJournal.ie called all Fianna Fáil TDs to gauge their mood about such an option. 

While many were tight-lipped, stating: “No comment” or “I’m not going there”, others were more clear cut, stating that what the party will do may become more clearer after today’s parliamentary party meeting. 

While Martin has gone to ground since the election, he has been testing the mood within the party. 

Speaking to Tipperary TD Jackie Cahill on Tuesday, Martin said the issue of government formation would be discussed today at the meeting. 

“We hadn’t a good day, there is no point in saying otherwise. We want to form a stable government, we will see where we go from after the meeting this week,” he told TheJournal.ie.

When asked if possibilities will be discussed, he said: “a path should be clear of where we are going after that meeting”.

Laois TD Sean Fleming said Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin entering government together is an “impossibility” as the two parties cannot reach the magic number of 80 seats (the number needed to form a government).

“Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin don’t make up the numbers – that’s my answer. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin cannot and will not make up a government with those numbers – it can’t happen…

“Whether people like the idea or not, the numbers aren’t there. It is mathematically impossible,” he said.

What is his preferred option for the FF party to take?

“My preferred option is – FF and FG got 43% of the vote, others got 57% of the vote. It is now up to them to take up the mantle. Let those who got the majority go form a government,” he said. 

Veteran Fianna Fáiler, Eamon O’Cuiv said he didn’t want to bother with “what ifs”, adding that the parliamentary party would have to think “around all angles of this”.

On a grand coalition with Fine Gael, he said Sinn Féin would become the “new Fianna Fáil”, stating that he had heard comments made in the run-up the election about “FFG” and Fine Fail’. 

“Inevitably there are similarities” between the two parties, he said, adding that Sinn Féin “stands for unity” and it is one of the Fianna Fáil’s top priorities also. 

Both parties also want to promote the Irish language, and both Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil have housing as one of the main planks in their manifestos.

When asked to state if he was in favour of the two parties entering into coalition, based on them both having such similarities, O’Cuiv said: “Not going there, not going to go there.”

However, he added:

I would not do business with Fine Gael even if there was no other party left in the Dáil. 

Some within Fianna Fáil have said a clear rural and urban divide is emerging between those that are okay with going into power with Sinn Féin and those that are not. Either way, Martin finds himself facing some difficult decisions and possibly losing even more TDs based on whatever way he decides to go.

Today’s meeting should make for some interesting debate.

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