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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to hold a one-day policy seminar next week

The Dáil will reconvene on 5 March to discuss the European Council meeting and the Coronavirus outbreak.

Image: Niall Carson

Updated Feb 26th 2020, 6:13 PM

FINE GAEL AND Fianna Fáil are to hold a one-day policy seminar next week in what is seen as an escalation in government formation talks. 

However, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting this afternoon that his position on leading Fine Gael into opposition has not changed.

Varadkar spoke to Micheál Martin earlier today in advance of the parliamentary party meeting, where it is understood the Taoiseach said he does not believe there is currently sufficient basis for appointing a negotiating team or initiating discussions on a potential Programme for Government.

However, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have agreed to hold a one-day policy exchange next week on a number of common policy themes.

This is likely to include the matters discussed at yesterday’s meeting between the Taoiseach and Martin which include housing, climate change, health, cost-of-living, the economy, and taxation.

The two-party leaders also agreed to meet again following these discussions.

Martin said yesterday that he told Varadkar there is a “need to put a government together” to deal with the “urgent issues” people voted on. 

The Fianna Fáil leader said any government formed would have to be done so on “mutual respect” with all parties involved.

“I said to the Taoiseach we have a mandate to engage with his party and the Greens, and with independents, Soc Dems and others,” he said. “People want action that brings about real change and real progress.

We have an obligation to try to meet the public’s demand on those issues.

During yesterday’s meeting, Varadkar encouraged Fianna Fáil to continue engaging with other parties with a view to forming a government.

Fine Gael is set to meet the Green Party for discussions next week, said the party.

As talks progress, the Dáil is set to return next week.  

While the House will reconvene next week, there won’t be another vote held on who should be the next Taoiseach. 

The Dáil Business Committee met today and agreed that no vote should be held as government formation talks are not expected to have progressed significantly. 

Last week, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald received the most votes to become the next Taoiseach. 

However, despite receiving 45 votes, both Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and other smaller parties, such as the Green Party voted against McDonald in greater numbers, with 84 voting against her and 29 abstentions. 

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar got 36 votes in favour of him continuing as Taoiseach, with 107 votes against and 16 abstentions.

There were 41 votes in favour of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin becoming Taoiseach, with 97 against and 19 abstentions.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan received 12 votes in favour of him as Taoiseach, with 115 votes against and 28 TDs abstaining. 

Back to work on 5 March 

Speaking at Leinster House today, Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said that instead of another vote being taken, the Dáil will return and statements will be heard on the European Council meeting and the Coronavirus outbreak. 

The lead of the Sinn Féin negotiating team said the party had met with the Rural Independents group today, and will meet with the Social Democrats this afternoon. 

Doherty said the party has not approached Fianna Fáil again but might consider doing so in the future. 

There were combative words between Martin and McDonald during last week’s Dáil sitting when the Sinn Féin leader said Martin had a “narrow and bitter mind”.

general-election-ireland-2020 Source: PA

This followed on from comments where the Fianna Fáil leader raised concerns about links between Sinn Féin and the IRA. 

Discussions between Sinn Fein, the Green Party, Social Democrats as well as other Independent TDs are to continue in the coming days.

Doherty said the talks had advanced in recent days, with more discussions on specific policy in six key areas.

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“Now we need to see what kind of common ground we can agree on,” he said. 

“We don’t want to see a second election. That would be a major failure in relation to politics and it would not be of our doing,” he said.

He added:

“As I said, we are willing to talk to all other political parties. We have a mandate as do other political parties and we respect and recognise that mandate.”

“We need to be saying we have had the initial conversations and had the discussions about the mood for change, now we need to see what common ground is there on these key issues. Obviously a minority government is one possibility but there are other possibilities.

“We have said over and over again since the general election campaign that we are open to discussing this with other parties.

“Some parties say they still won’t talk to us; that may change so we will have to see. We have to explore every option to see if a government for change,” said Doherty.

Despite talks with the Rural Independents today, Sinn Fein has ruled out any reforms of the penalty point system as well as the reformed drink-driving laws if government, which was suggested by the Rural Independents today.

“We’re not up for changing that,” Dohert said, adding that there needs to be an honesty and frankness in the government formation talks between parties. 

He again criticised political parties such as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for not getting around the table for talks, adding that the “play-acting” needed to stop.

“We need to inject urgency in this,” said Doherty, who added that there is disappointment there will not be a vote on 5 March, as it might withdraw momentum in the talks. 

While Doherty said he did not know when the Dáil would return again, he said there is work the Dáil can be getting on with while government formation talks continue. 

Last time around, it took 70 days and four Dáil votes to elect a Taoiseach. 

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