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Dublin: 8 °C Thursday 28 May, 2020

Micheál and Leo will sit down for chats next week, but who else is talking?

The talks continue…

Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar talked on the phone on Thursday night.
Micheal Martin and Leo Varadkar talked on the phone on Thursday night.

GOVERNMENT FORMATION DISCUSSIONS should pick up pace from next week as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have finally conceded that they have to get into a room together for talks. 

Since the general election result, government formation plans have been moving at a glacial pace. 

There has been talk about talks, with phrases like “preliminary talks” and “exploratory talks” being bandied around in the last couple of days. 

Sinn Féin has been leading the march, sitting down with many of the smaller parties and Independents in the last week to sound out the possibilities of a left-led government.

The party also held meetings with the top civil servants on how to turn its election promises into programme for government realities. 

There are 87 TDs who are not members of Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil and of these, 37 are Sinn Féin members.

This means that Sinn Féin has the enormous task of convincing 50 other TDs to sign up to government formation with them – or at least, agree to abstain in major votes in a confidence and supply arrangement. 

With Labour ruled out after stating that its six members did not get a mandate to enter government, it means if every single other TD, aside from FF and FG members, signed up with Sinn Féin, the party would exceed the magic number with 81 seats. 

Despite what many would say is an impossible task, talks continue into their third week.

So who is talking to who? 

Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have both ruled out talking to Sinn Féin. There has been no movement there. 

However, Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin did speak by phone after both leaders lost the vote to become the next Taoiseach on Thursday. 

They agreed to meet early next week – though the location of where the chat will take place has not been disclosed. 

A lot will hinge on this meeting.

Varadkar said in Brussels that his party is preparing to go into opposition, but that next week’s meeting will allow both leaders to discuss “ways forward”. 

The leaders have been tight-lipped about what will be on the agenda, but the potential of a so-called grand coalition involving their parties and the possibility of a rotating taoiseach will most likely be up for discussion. 

(Remember, these were two issues also discussed back in 2016 when it took 70 days to form a government). 

After the meeting, Varadkar said he will brief the Fine Gael parliamentary party, probably on Wednesday or Thursday. He has yet to appoint his party’s negotiating team, though senior party figures are likely to feature on the team. Names in the mix include Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe and Helen McEntee. 

The party’s last parliamentary meeting lasted over five hours, so its next meeting might also be a long one, as TDs set out why Fine Gael should or should not enter into a coalition with Fianna Fáil or why another confidence and supply might be a bad move for both parties. 

While the spotlight will be on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael from early next week, Sinn Féin will continue its discussions with the Green Party, the Social Democrats, the Labour Party, Solidarity-People Before Profit, Independents4Change and a range of other Independents. 

Speaking yesterday, Mary Lou McDonald said: “Despite the rejection of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s record over the past four years, they are now looking for a carve-up of political power that is about keeping them in office and blocking change.”

“Any such proposal flies in the face of what people voted for and does not represent change,” she said. 
Next week’s discussions for Sinn Féin will focus on issues such as building homes, cutting rents and freezing them, guaranteeing the pension age at sixty-five, health and the trolley crisis, climate change and Irish Unity. 

The Social Democrats are due to meet both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael next week.

A meeting between the Green Party and the Social Democrats is due to last a day and a half, with the location mooted to be in Dublin Castle. 

The Green Party – who could perhaps be the kingmakers in these negotiations – also has a busy week ahead. Plans are afoot for the party to meet with Sinn Féin on Monday or Tuesday.

Eamon Ryan will meet with Fianna Fáil on Wednesday or Thursday. A meeting with Fine Gael will follow.

In terms of Independent TDs, many are going solo with their talks with parties.

While a regional technical parliamentary grouping was established, consisting of Cathal Berry, Sean Canney, Peter Fitzpatrick, Noel Grealish, Michael Lowry, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Matt Shanahan and Peadar Toibin, its members state that it was only set up to establish speaking rights in the Dáil.

It is not a grouping entering into talks together, said one TD, who said there were some members in the group that he could not sit around a table with for talks, They added that they had been engaging with a number of parties in recent days. 

How do they see it ending up? “Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, the Greens, the Social Democrats and a couple of Independents to give it a whiff of a national parliament,” they said. 

Just two weeks out from the election, and it’s still all to play for.

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