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The Neverending Story: The big two are still trying to cobble together a government

There has been a bit of movement from all parties in Leinster House this afternoon.

Updated 6.45pm

download (1) Naughten, Kenny and McGrath Source: RollingNews.ie

A GROUP OF rural-based independent TDs have said they are going to “intensify discussions with Fine Gael with a view to trying to form a government”.

Mattie McGrath (Tipperary), Denis Naughten (Roscommon-East Galway), Michael Collins (Cork South-West), Noel Grealish (Galway West) and Michael Harty (Clare) have issued a joint statement saying they have made the decision “in the national interest”.

The move is significant in that it is the first declaration by a political grouping in the new Dáil that it is siding with one party over the other.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are continuing to lobby for the support of small parties and independents in a bid to form a government ahead of 6 April, when the Dáil will try to elect a Taoiseach.

Fianna Fáil met the Independent Alliance of six TDs, who are both rural and Dublin-based, at Leinster House today.

This evening, Fine Gael TDs endorsed the party’s ongoing efforts to form a minority government of small parties and independents with further talks planned for Thursday.

In other developments today, Labour said it will not form part of the next government, but a spokesperson confirmed there had been “some initial contact” between party leader Joan Burton and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

The Rural 5

In a statement issued by Denis Naughten, the group of five rural TDs said: ”Following the discussions over the last 12 days with both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, we believe that Fine Gael is seriously determined to form a government and as the party is in the driving seat – with eight extra Dáil votes – we are now prepared to sit down and actively engage on a programme for government.”

We are firmly of the belief that no agreement can be achieved without the cooperation of Fianna Fáil and we will continue to insist that any programme will be a ‘political partnership agreement’ which will be a partnership agreement across all constructive TDs.

The group said they have not decided who to back as Taoiseach in the 6 April vote, but stated: “The current political stand-off by all parties is not in the best interest of this country, of those who are homeless, those who are on trolleys, those who are unemployed or struggling to meet day to day bills and the issues that affect rural Ireland.”

The TDs have requested that a face-to-face meeting with Enda Kenny takes place as soon as possible.

Naughten was re-elected as a Fine Gael TD in 2011. He lost the party whip the following July when he voted against the government’s decision to close the emergency department at Roscommon Hospital.

Fine Gael

Meanwhile, Fine Gael TDs have this evening backed the party’s ongoing efforts to gain support from independents and smaller parties.

Minister Simon Coveney told the parliamentary party that Fine Gael hopes to form a minority government with as many as 71 Dáil votes – eight short of an overall majority – through the backing of independent TDs and smaller parties.

Fine Gael TDs also heard that any approach to Fianna Fáil is being ruled out for now until all options with independents and small parties have been exhausted.

Independent Alliance

08/02/2016 Shane Ross from the Independent Allianc Source: Leah Farrell

The Independent Alliance, which is made up of TDs Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, John Halligan, Michael Fitzmaurice, Seán Canney and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, met with Fianna Fáil’s negotiating team in Leinster House today.

A source said afterwards that Fianna Fáil offered the alliance a super junior minister for disabilities, who would sit at cabinet.

There was also a briefing from Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath on the costings of various policies being sought by the alliance.

But the source said that it remained “50/50″ as to whether they would side with Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael. The Independent Alliance is due to meet with representatives from Fine Gael’s negotiating team on Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not going to be bounced into anything,” they said in response to the news that the five rural TDs have sided with Fine Gael.

Labour’s way

Elsewhere, Labour has confirmed it will not be part of the next government after its depleted parliamentary party met in Leinster House today.

The party has yet to decide if it will vote in the election of a Taoiseach next week.

A spokesperson for the Tánaiste said there had been some “initial contact” between Joan Burton and Micheál Martin, but no meeting as yet. They added:

The collective view is that Labour did not receive a mandate to go back into government. We’re firmly of the view that Fianna Fáil need to get off the fence. There is a clear pathway to a government there. Rather than people looking at us, Fianna Fáil should fulfil it’s own responsibilities.

No grand coalition

Over the weekend, independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae played down reports he would be appointed Minister for Rural Affairs by Kenny if he backed a Fine Gael-led minority government.

He and others have criticised Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for failing to hold talks on forming a government three weeks out from the election.

Both parties have publicly expressed a preference to lead minority governments rather than form a grand coalition.

- additional reporting from Órla Ryan

Read: Strange days in Leinster House as the wait goes on and on and on

Read: Michael Healy-Rae says FG and FF are like a girl and a boy ‘wanting to go with each other’

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Hugh O'Connell

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