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Leo Varadkar seeks to woo Independents in order to bolster government support

The coalition between FG-FF and the Greens brings government support to 84. But Leo Varadkar says he wants to go further.

Leo Varadkar says he would like to increase government numbers to 90 in order to secure the future of the next government.
Leo Varadkar says he would like to increase government numbers to 90 in order to secure the future of the next government.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

THE LEADERS AND the majority of the parliamentary parties of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party have backed the programme for government. 

The focus is now turning to Independent TDs in a move to bolster the numbers of the next government.

Since the general election, there has been much debate about how the magic number of a majority government could be reached. Talks between Sinn Féin and others could not reach the magic number of 80.

The coalition between FG-FF and the Greens brings government support to 84. But Leo Varadkar says he wants to go further.

He said meetings are being organised with Independent TDs about the programme for government, with the Taoiseach stating that he “looks forward” to engaging with them on whether they can support the deal and the next government.

Varadkar said he would like to get the numbers a “little bit higher, closer to 90″ to provide some security for the next government that it can last the full term of five years. 

Independent TDs such as Denis Naughten and Verona Murphy have said they stand ready to enter into government formation talks.

As members of the eight-strong Regional Independent Group, the TDs have already had what has been called “constructive engagement” with the leaders of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party in the last month.

The TDs said they have made it clear they are available to engage further with the three parties “to bring about a stable government”.

Briefing Independents 

Last week, Independent TDs such as Michael Fitzmaurice, Michael McNamara and Marian Harkin were told they would get sight of the final deal as the same time as parliamentary parties yesterday, but would not be involved in formal negotiations.

Independent TDs are expected to be briefed on the programme for government later this week.

A number the regional group were involved in the last government.

Galway TD Sean Canney served as a Minister for State for a period of time, while Peter Fitzpatrick was previously a member of the Fine Gael party before he left due to the abortion legislation.

Then there is Roscommon TD Denis Naughten who served as the Communications Minister before having to step down to the broadband bid controversy.

There is also understanding that TDs Noel Grealish and Michael Lowry had a special arrangement to support the government last time around.

Wexford TD Verona Murphy has an interesting past with Fine Gael. During last year’s by-election, Murphy fell out with Fine Gael over comments she made about migrants.

However, it is believed that Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who has a good relationship with Murphy, reached out to her about possibly coming on board to support the next government. Murphy previously said Simon Harris was the worst health minister in history, so issues there would have to be delicately ironed out.

A deal with the Rural Independent Group is less likely. Tipperary’s Mattie McGrath has spoken about his worry for rural Ireland if the Green Party get into power.

Rural Ireland concerns

There are a number of initiatives in the programme for government that would not be appealing to the group, particularly the halting of the Shannon LNG terminal in Kerry, which Michael Healy Rae has been a long-time supporter of due to the employment opportunities it would have brought to the area.

Today, Varadkar disputed that there had not been sufficient dedication to rural Ireland, and said there is a lot in the document.

“If you think about the rural economy in the future. It’s really going to be based on four things, tourism, which we need to get going again, sustainable commercial agriculture, renewable energy, for example, wind – particularly offshore wind, and also people working from home.

“The National Broadband Plan, far from being scrapped is being committed to and will be accelerated.

“We’re also going to see a REPs to programme for farmers worth about 1.5 billion over the next 10 years, and continue to invest in our roads, roughly a third of the new transport budget should be ring-fenced for roads.

“It’s our job now to turn those words into actions.

While the three parties attempt to woo some independents, they also have to convince their membership. 

Varadkar said today that there will be a “political crisis” if members of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party do not approve the proposed coalition government deal.

“If the deal doesn’t go through, well then we do not have a new government and that precipitates a political crisis,” he told reporters.

Tanaiste Simon Coveney said today on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland:

“We have three parties who want to work together at a senior level and we have to spend the next 10 or 11 days now persuading our membership that it’s the right thing for the country.

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“I think, when people read this document, they’ll get a lot of reassurance that this is a template to get the country back to work.

Yesterday, Coveney admitted that this is “very new” for party leaders and for the members of each party. 

“These two parties in Irish politics have been competing with each other since independence,” he said. 

“It is difficult for many of our members to get their head around what is happening in Irish politics,” said Coveney, who added that parliamentary party members will have to explain why this is “good for the country”.

While he said he believes Fine Gael members will back the deal, “this doesn’t make it easy or straightforward”.

Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen told RTÉ’s News at One that the general election had not yielded a great result for Fianna Fáil.

“We’re not going to sit back and wallow in negative pessimism,” he said.

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