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Micheál Martin 'not entertaining' the idea of a grand coalition with Fine Gael

Martin says there is a sense the Taoiseach is trying to provoke Fianna Fáil into an election.

Micheál Martin in Timoleague, Cork today.
Micheál Martin in Timoleague, Cork today.

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin said a grand coalition with Fine Gael is not an idea he is entertaining. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie today in Cork, Martin said:

“I don’t think the public want a grand coalition. And we don’t get a sense that the people would vote for a grand coalition, so we’re not entertaining that idea.”

Earlier today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar refused to rule out entering a grand coalition with Fianna Fáil, but added that he would not support them in forming a government with smaller parties such as the Green Party and Labour.

“I am certainly not ruling out any future arrangement with Fianna Fáil. Either confidence and supply or coalition.

“We certainly would not entertain a situation whereby we were the largest party in the Dáil and were then somehow asked to facilitate the second, fourth and fifth party in forming a government,” he said.

He clarified that his party would only consider supporting Fianna Fáil in the arrangement if the Fianna Fáil won more seats in the next Dáil. It would not do so if Fianna Fáil garnered less seats but managed to build a larger coalition.

The offer of a grand coalition was previously made by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny, but the idea was rejected after the 2016 general election.

Martin said today that he gets a sense that the people want a change in government.

“And the most effective change in government in our view would be a Fianna Fáil-led government with smaller parties.

“We don’t believe we’ll obviously get enough seats to operate alone. But we and other smaller parties could get together with a number of seats and get a common program together. That is now a realistic alternative, particularly if the trends that are evident at the local elections are followed through. So that option is now there, which perhaps may not have been there in 2016,” he said. 

“We’ve demonstrated as a party, we’re constructive, we’re responsible, and we’re gonna be sensible. And we will work with other parties,” he added. 

Confidence and supply 

On the issue of Fine Gael entering into a confidence and supply arrangement with Fianna Fáil, Martin said he would not be closed off to the idea.

“We are not closed off to it, but our overall preference definitively is to go into government as a lead party, with smaller parties, and to affect a complete change of government.”

He added that if we were to countenance such an arrangement again he would have to “evaluate” how the current deal has worked.

There are strengths and weaknesses to this. What is behind the Taoiseach’s comment, fundamentally, is that it’s an acknowledgement that Fianna Fáil has been constructive and has been reasonable, and has facilitated a government, now that flies in the face of what his ministers were saying yesterday [at the Fine Gael party think-in] when they’re all rushing out to condemn us and attack us which I thought looked foolish, and sounded foolish.
So maybe it’s pulling it back in from that. And he had to acknowledge this morning, by saying he would be willing to support a confidence and supply. I think it was an acknowledgement that Fianna Fáil has been reasonable, has been constructive, and has endeavored to put national interest first.

Election in May 2020?

Varadkar’s Fine Gael government has been kept in power through the current agreement with Fianna Fáil, however, yesterday the Taoiseach but a timeline down that would see an end of such an arrangement by stating he wanted the country to go to the polls in May 2020.

When asked about Varadkar naming the month he would like an election, Martin said he believed such a move was a diversionary tactic to avoid the hard questions on Brexit.

“I was asked last week and I said, I don’t see an election this year. And we didn’t want an election, we didn’t believe there should be an election because of Brexit and the fact that we had no clear light at the end of the tunnel in terms of Brexit. So I think maybe he was looking for diversion from the whole issue of – are you prepared for Brexit? Are we prepared for a no-deal Brexit? What does a no-deal Brexit entail and where will the checks be? And therefore a classic way of doing that is to talk up an election for May.”

Earlier this week, Martin said he envisaged an election in Spring of next year, so how does a May election strike him?

“Are we arguing over a few months? What’s the big deal?” he said, adding that the Taoiseach had already stated that May was his preferred date.

There’s nothing new in that, he said that when he wrote to me in July 2018… if you remember after the famous Killarney meeting in 2018 [the two party leaders met up to discuss the renewal of the agreement in July last year]. He said he wanted May 2020. It was a bit of a try at the time. He wanted a blank cheque for a year and a half, and we don’t believe in giving blank cheques. My point being, this is overhyped. I said the whole thing was overplayed. It is a party conference. So I get that bit. And things get said.
I think what’s more interesting is the attack lines that were clearly rehearsed and prepared yesterday, I listened to Eoghan Murphy on Drivetime, it didn’t turn out to be great interview for Eoghan in the end. But he was using language like reckless and that we are holding an election over the government.

In terms of when the next election will be – Spring or May – Martin said he would assess the situation as it evolves.

“As far as we’re concerned, we’ll take a watching brief on this. We’re clear that we’re committed to a budget, that means we’re committed to a Finance Bill and a Social Protection Bill. That takes us into early 2020. And we’ll see where that takes us then. We’ve had no discussions with the government on that.”

Provoked into an election 

When asked if he thought Varadkar was placing Fianna Fáil in a tight corner by naming a month to have the election, therefore ensuring Martin gets blamed if he calls one any earlier, the Fianna Fáil leader said:

There may be an element of that to it. There may be, you know, different agendas here. The Taoiseach has been the only person who has consistently been talking about an election for 18 months. Our view was that he perhaps wanted to go last autumn and that he talked it up to last autumn, trying to provoke us into some reaction. And we get the same feeling now, that he is trying to provoke us into a reaction to precipitate an election.

He added:

“I think there was a bit of diversion going on this week from the whole issue of Brexit and the ‘are we prepared question’ because the government is very, very sensitive about the border question. And they use all sort of language to justify the fact that there will be checks if there is a no-deal. They said last year, there wouldn’t be any checks, come what may. And they seem to now talk about protecting the single market. 

“We’ve always said that we’re going to stay in the European Union. So it was obvious that if you stay in the European Union, the European Union will want checks of some sort. And hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

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