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File photo of Leo Varadkar. Leah Farrell/
new government

Social Democrats accuse Fine Gael of 'game-playing' and cancel meeting

Leo Varadkar last night said his party is “preparing to go into opposition”.

LAST UPDATE | 18 Feb 2020

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS have cancelled a planned meeting with Fine Gael.

In a statement released this morning, the party said it came to the decision after Leo Varadkar last night said Fine Gael was preparing to enter opposition.

“In light of Leo Varadkar’s statement yesterday evening, the Social Democrats have taken the decision to cancel today’s proposed meeting with Fine Gael.

“It is clear to all that FG are now engaged in a game-playing exercise and we refuse to participate in what is essentially theatrics by FG.

“While it was always the case that we were unlikely to find much common ground with FG, we intended to honour our commitment of engaging openly with all parties.

“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 statement noted. 

Varadkar last night said his party is “preparing to go into opposition” following a six-hour parliamentary party meeting.

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

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

Varadkar and others in the party have consistently ruled out forming a government with Sinn Féin.

When asked by if there will be a grand coalition 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”.

“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.

A statement issued last night said: “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.”

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

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland today, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the party had a “difficult meeting yesterday” because there is a “huge amount of disappointment” in the party after the election.

“We recognise that people voted for change… The onus is on the parties that got the most votes and the party that got the most seats to show some leadership,” he said. 

“We now have a very difficult situation to face up to. Irish politics is fractured. No political party got more than a quarter of the vote.”

He reiterated the party’s stance of preparing for opposition, saying he “relishes the opportunity to hold the government to account”. 

“We see our future in opposition given how people have voted, but we’re not going to tie our hands and we’ll have to wait and see how it develops over the next few weeks,” Coveney said. 

The Fine Gael parliamentary party will be meeting again next week. 

Left-leaning government 

Mary Lou McDonald yesterday said it is still possible to have a Sinn Fein-led government despite the numbers making it difficult.

The Sinn Féin leader said talks will intensify with smaller parties this week in a bid to form a left-leaning government.

She said: “There is undoubtedly a solid block of TDs for change for a new government. I remain very determined that we deliver that government.

“We are still very determined that an alternative and a new government of change can be created. And we will intensify our efforts this week when we have conversations with other parties.

I am very clear that we have been elected in very large numbers to be in government, even to lead the next government. I’ve also said that the idea of seeing Fine Gael or Fianna Fail returned again for five years is unthinkable.

McDonald said there is little public appetite for another election but Sinn Fein will fight one if required.

“I want to see a good, stable, strong government that can deliver on housing, on health, can deliver on the issues that matter to people. But if there is an election, I mean we’ll go and we’ll fight the election,” she said.

Climate change 

Meanwhile Solidarity-People Before Profit has urged the Green Party not to prop up a Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael government.

In a meeting yesterday, Solidarity-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the two main parties will not implement changes demanded by the public.

The party’s delegation met Green leader Eamon Ryan and TD Catherine Martin to discuss the possibilities for government formation.

“The main message we will be trying to put across is urging the Green Party not to prop up a government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” Boyd Barrett said.

“We think there is an overwhelming mandate for change and we want to see that movement for change not sabotaged by seeing a return to power of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael … because of the sort of change people are asking for on the housing crisis and health crisis, the cost of living for working people, climate change.”

Boyd-Barrett said he will urge Ryan “to work with the left with a view to delivering on the mandate and demand for change and to try and press forward with the possibility of a left government to deliver that change”.

Solidarity’s Mick Barry said the party will urge the Greens to “close the door” on any deal with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Colleague Paul Murphy said: “Even for the Greens’ own policies to be implemented – for example, they call for a 7.67% annual reduction in carbon emissions – that will not be delivered in a government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

“Even their limited demand – which is inadequate – for doubling investment in public transport will not be delivered in government with Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

“There is a majority in society for a whole series of left-wing policies.”

Contains reporting from Christina Finn, Orla Dwyer and PA

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