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Varadkar says FG isn't planning on entering government, but will meet with Martin early next week

TDs yesterday failed to elect a new Taoiseach on the first day of the 33rd Dáil.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Feb 2020

download File photos of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.

LEO VARADKAR AND Micheál Martin have agreed to meet for exploratory talks early next week.

The leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil made the decision yesterday after TDs failed to elect a new Taoiseach on the first day of the 33rd Dáil.

The two men talked over the phone last night, a spokesperson for Fine Gael confirmed, adding that the exact location and time of the talks have yet to be confirmed.

“The Taoiseach spoke by phone to Micheál Martin yesterday evening. They agreed to meet in person early next week for exploratory talks. Fine Gael has also accepted the offer from the Greens for exploratory talks next week,” the spokesperson said.

Speaking in Brussels today, Varadkar confirmed that he plans to meet Martin early next week. 

“At that meeting, we’ll discuss ways forward and I will then report to the Fine Gael parliamentary party, probably Wednesday or Thursday of next week, as to whether there is any basis for any further discussions,” he said. 

He said the position in Fine Gael remains the same.

“We’re preparing for opposition. We think those parties that are now in opposition should form a government, they have more than enough numbers to do so. We are willing to talk to other parties about participating in government if the opposition failed to put together a government. But, you know, that’s not something that we’re planning to do or looking for,” he added. 

Fine Gael agreed at a parliamentary party meeting on Monday that the party could engage in exploratory talks but not in programme-for-government negotiations.

Varadkar said the only way his party would participate in government is “on the basis that there’s full respect for the fact that we did win 450,000 votes in this election”.

“We have 35 seats, we didn’t win this election but we have almost as many seats and votes as Fianna Fáil and not that many fewer than Sinn Féin. But I don’t see any evidence yet that’s that’s recognised by any other party,” he said. 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald yesterday received the most votes to become the next Taoiseach – 45 – however, this was well short of the required majority of 80.

Varadkar tendered his resignation to President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin last night but he will remain in place, along with the current Cabinet, until a new Taoiseach is elected.

When asked by earlier this week if there will be a grand coalition between Fine Gael and with Fianna Fáil, Varadkar said: “I really just don’t see that happening.”

“It’s a last resort,” he said, but added “it shouldn’t come to that”.

Not enough votes 

In yesterday’s bid to elect a new Taoiseach, McDonald received 45 votes, with her own party of 37 voting for her, as well as the five members of Solidarity-People Before Profit, Joan Collins from Independents 4 Change, and independent TD Thomas Pringle.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and other parties such as the Greens voted against McDonald, with 84 voting against her overall and 29 abstentions.

There were 41 votes in favour of Martin becoming Taoiseach, with 97 against and 19 abstentions. Varadkar got 36 votes in favour of him continuing as Taoiseach, with 107 votes against and 16 abstentions.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan received 12 votes in favour of him as Taoiseach, with 115 votes against and 28 TDs abstaining.

The Social Democrats abstained from yesterday’s vote – likely the first of many votes for the next Taoiseach in the coming weeks, if not months.

Ongoing talks 

Sinn Féin has been meeting with a number of smaller parties and independents in a bid to form a government without Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil but the numbers make it difficult.

Fianna Fáil has 38 seats, Sinn Féin has 37 and Fine Gael has 35. Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have repeatedly ruled out going in to coalition with Sinn Féin.

Martin stated on Wednesday that for “many reasons” Fianna Fáil forming a coalition with Sinn Féin “would not be the right thing to do”, saying he had written to McDonald to explain that decision.

After the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting on Monday, Varadkar said Fine Gael was preparing to enter opposition.

As a result of this, the Social Democrats cancelled a planned meeting with Fine Gael.

“Clearly Fine Gael’s intention is to engage in shadow-boxing for the coming weeks and we’ve no interest in participating in such a charade,” the Soc Dems said in a statement on Tuesday.

Social Democrats’ Dublin Central TD Gary Gannon today told Newstalk’s The Pat Kenny Show that he would be “massively uncomfortable” supporting a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael government.

He said he believes the two parties have the numbers for a majority if they secure the support of the Green Party.

As talks continue in Dublin, Tánaiste Simon Coveney is due to meet the new Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis in Belfast this afternoon. It will be the first meeting between the two men since Lewis took over from Julian Smith, who was sacked by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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