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Bums on seats: What ministries do independents have their eye on?

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael met again today. They’re due to meet again on Monday.

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THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE can change very quickly. While the independents held most of the cards in the last couple of days, negotiating with both sides, there are only six seats needed on the Fine Gael train.

Senior sources say that some independents have been actively seeking out Fine Gael to let them know they are open to support them.

Smaller parties and independents 

The only way a minority-led Fine Gael government has a hope of working is if it gets support either from other parties and/or independents.

Fine Gael’s best bet is to woo at least six independents. There are currently 14 still open to talking.

Independent sources have indicated that they will await the outcome of the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil meetings held today and Monday, before they make any commitments.

Many state a written document and a commitment of at least three budgets is needed before they will consider supporting a Fine Gael led-minority.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke programme, Independent Alliance member Finian McGrath said if they are to offer their support, he would like to see a number of independents getting ministerial seats.

“I would say at least a third,” said McGrath, which would be five seats. He said five would be the “minimum”.

However, he added that he was not talking “bums on seats and Cabinet seats” and just wanted to see their policies implemented.

So what ministerial seats do the independents have their eye on?’

McGrath has been vocal in the past about disability issues and is pushing for a disability minister position to be established.

He is also looking for health issues to be addressed and is seeking 12 cystic fibrosis beds to be opened in Beaumont Hospital.

Independent TD, Michael Collins, said he has stood strong on having a senior minister for rural affairs.

He criticised how rural matters have been dealt with, stating that there have been “serious happenings in rural Ireland” in relation to the fishermen and farmers being penalised.

Michael Healy-Rae already indicated back in March that Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin both backed the idea of a minister for rural affairs.

Irish Farmers Association protest Source: Niall Carson

When asked by RTÉ if he would be interested in such a position, he said he would not rule himself out.

“I listen to everything, I see what arises. If an opportunity was ever to arise to me that made sense, and that was a good thing, and that would be a good thing for the people that I represent.”

There was also speculation in March that Roscommon/Galway Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice was being offered the Agriculture Minister’s portfolio , however, he later dismissed this.

A minister for the elderly is also something that is coming up – both Collins and Maureen O’Sullivan said issues surrounding elderly people in Ireland needed urgent attention.

Maureen O’Sullivan said that people going into coalitions of sorts have to “be careful”.

It is going to be different, no longer will people be dictated to by party politics.

Issues of concern to the independents are rural affairs, agriculture, older people, young people and mental health. “These are all the issues we are looking at,” said O’Sullivan

However, she said the document the independents produced was “aspirational”.

We can’t do everything.

“Addiction is a major issue for me – it took us four years to get a dedicated junior minister so I wouldn’t like to see that go.”

“I didn’t go in with any shocking wish list – but it is time now to get on with the nitty-gritty,” she said.

19/1/2016. Independent Alliance Motions Source: Leah Farrell

Divvying up jobs

Meanwhile, John Halligan said this was not the time to be talking about divvying up ministerial jobs.

I have no interest in that talk of minsterships – if they offer it to me, I would think about it.

He said the main issue is health, and there are concerns that fall under that title.

You can take one – like cystic fibrosis or mental health – they are all important issues. Personally, I would dismantle the HSE and start from the beginning.

Halligan has been vocal about securing a 24-hour cardiac care unit to be restored at Waterford General Hospital.

He had a meeting this week with HSE officials about the issue, which he said was positive.

“There seems to be a disdain for politicians that point out problems with the health service,” he said.

He was adamant that before jobs are handed out, the most important issue is stability.

That is the first thing that should be the focus. We shouldn’t be rushing in because someone is offering a minstership or junior minstership – that is not right for the people.

“We need an agreement between the two parties. We need a commitment of at least two or three budgets. Then we [the independents] will know where we are. We need to know the terms and to be fair, so do the people of Ireland at this stage.”

Junior ministry job

Yesterday, independent TD Katherine Zappone took to Twitter just before 9am, stating that she would be abstaining from the vote for a Taoiseach.

Between 9am and the vote at 2.30pm, something changed.

She backed Enda Kenny, raising his votes of support from 51 to 52 (Michael Lowry is the other non-Fine Gael TD to back Kenny).

She said she supported him in bringing the country closer to getting a government – but it’s believed she is line to get a junior ministry for supporting him.

Smaller parties

The other option open to Fine Gael is to look to the smaller parties to make up the numbers.

Despite Labour’s Joan Burton stating on Thursday that her party could not support Enda Kenny, abstaining from the vote, there is speculation Labour may be able to be talked around to support them from the opposition benches.

If there was u-turn from Labour that would be a “game-changer”, said one source.

It’s also believed the Green Party are receptive to talks about entering a Fine Gael led-minority, but would be even more open to it if there was another party in the mix.

Social Democrats have previously indicated they are not interested and it’s believed that is where they remain.

Minister for Defence and Agriculture Simon Coveney said “long and difficult” negotiations will take place with Fianna Fáil in the coming days, but he is hopeful a minority government will be formed by the middle of next week.

“It’s time to get on with it,” he said.

Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin spoke this morning and the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil negotiating teams met this afternoon for a “constructive” meeting. The two parties are to remain in contact this weekend, with another meeting scheduled for Monday.

Read: No to Enda, no to Micheál: Dáil fails to elect Taoiseach for a third time>

Read: ‘TDs are not elected to be silent’ – Green Party deputy gives impassioned maiden Dáil speech>

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