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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Liam McBurney
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Fine Gael 'preparing to go into opposition' following marathon parliamentary party meeting

The party held its first parliamentary party meeting since the election today.

FINE GAEL HAS this evening announced that it “is preparing to go into opposition” following a meeting of its parliamentary party.

Members met this afternoon to discuss how to proceed after FG came third behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin in terms of seats in last week’s general election.

The proposal of a grand coalition with Fianna Fáil and other parties has been met with significant resistance within Fine Gael. 

In a statement the party said: “An Taoiseach and Fine Gael President, Leo Varadkar, told the parliamentary party that he relishes the challenge to lead a strong and effective Opposition for the benefit of the country.

“The Fine Gael parliamentary party met for six hours today and had a detailed discussion in which everyone had an opportunity to give their view. We are preparing to go into Opposition.” 

While some senior figures are in favour of a coalition, the majority of TDs, as well as much of the membership of the party are understood to be against it. 

Figures like Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney have also consistently ruled out working to form a government with Sinn Féin.

The statement tonight continued: “Fine Gael will represent the interests and the aspirations of the 450,000 people who voted for the Party in the election and hold the new government to account.

“The Taoiseach said he also plans to consult with public representatives and members about the future direction of Fine Gael, and looks forward to rebuilding the Party in the years ahead.”

It said there will be “no negotiations on a Programme for Government without a further mandate from the parliamentary party” which is expected to meet again next week. 

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

He repeated what he stated during the election campaign, that “it’s a last resort”, but added that “it shouldn’t come to that”.

Other parties sought a mandate, made a lot of extraordinary impossible promises to the Irish people and they have a duty now to fulfil those promises.

Varadkar said Fine Gael is preparing to go into opposition, adding that the onus is on Sinn Féin to form a government of the left.

If Sinn Féin fails to form a government, Varadkar said the onus passes to Fianna Fáil to form a government, either with Sinn Féin or other smaller parties, he said. 

Grand coalition

A grand coalition would have seen the party work with Fianna Fáil and others, and was mooted as a potential option that could see Fine Gael return to government. 

Fine Gael’s 35 seat haul in this month’s election is the party’s fourth-worst performance ever, behind only 1943 (when it won 32 seats), 2002 and 1948 (31 seats) and 1944 (30 seats).

Ahead of today’s meeting, one minister said they believed that a grand coalition between FF and FG, as well as the Green Party and perhaps the Social Democrats, would be a reality come April.

However, speaking at Leinster House this evening, Varadkar said:

“I relish the challenge of leading the opposition providing good, robust, detailed and forensic opposition to the next government.”

He added that he did not seek nor does he have a mandate to engage with other political parties on a programme for government.

“We’re not going to be rushed into anything,” he said.

Varadkar did say he will speak to other parties to share his party’s analysis of the situation, adding that he will meet with the Social Democrats tomorrow.

Today’s FG meeting was as much about a review of the party’s performance in the election as about the next steps. 

On government formation, one of the meeting’s participants said the majority of TDs in the party were against going into a grand coalition with FF, insisting that it was instead time to rebuild the party in opposition after almost a decade in power.

The TD went on to say that Fine Gael was not as afraid of another election as Fianna Fáil is – but added that SF could gain eight to ten seats if another vote is held. 

This would give SF the “clear stretch of water” they need to form a government next time around, they warned. 

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