The 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that he would accept Sinn Féin support for a minority Fianna Fail government after the next general election, but that he would not agree any deal with them in return for votes.
The statement was viewed as a “dramatic new shift” by the leader of the opposition, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. He accused Mr Ahern of shifting his view since the Fianna Fail leader said in November 2005 that he would would lead his party into Opposition “rather than contemplate coalition with Sinn Féin or an arrangement for their support in Government.”
Despite polls indicating a decline in support over the past two years, Sinn Féin could potentially hold the balance of power following the next general election in the 26 Counties.
Keeping all of his coalition options open, Mr Ahern, speaking on Irish radio, insisted his “preferred option” was for a renewal of the current coalition government with Michael McDowell’s Progressive Democrats.
“I don’t think it would be reasonable for somebody to go in and say that you wouldn’t take support from a party. We will not, in Fianna Fail, enter into coalition discussions, or a pact with Sinn Féin,” he said yesterday.
He added that his objections to Sinn Féin are now based upon their economic policies, although he said the party deserved credit for supporting the IRA’s disarmament and committing to completely peaceful means.
Responding to questions about the Taoiseach’s statement, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said Mr Ahern would have to “change his policies” before he would gets Sinn Féin’s support.
“We would only support a Taoiseach to be on the basis that the policies outlined dealt with the crisis in the health service and dealt with the crisis in the public services. It is a farce that we have the wealthiest economy in the EU and yet a crisis right across all the public sectors, but in particular the health service.
“The government needs to abandon its strategy of privatising the health service and embrace a policy to build a first class public health service for all our citizens.”
Sinn Féin chief negotiator Martin McGuinness, speaking at the Sean Sabhat commemoration in Limerick, also addressed the upcoming 26-County elections, set to take place in May.
“Let us grasp the opportunities which will come our way in the course of the next year,” he said.
“Let us be sure that when we gather here again next year that we have all here done everything that we can. That we have ensured that seats are not left behind in any of the elections we will face this year through lack of effort. Our project is bigger than that. Our struggle is bigger than that.
Mr McGuinness said he believed republicans were “on the road to freedom”.
“The final phase of liberation struggle is often the most difficult,” he concluded.
“Diarmaid O Donnchadha giving the oration at the graveside of Sean Sabhat said: “He died for my freedom; for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of the generations that are to come ... let his life and his death be a lesson and a guide to all of us.’
“All of our patriot dead continue to guide us and provide inspiration for us. If we stay solid and stay focused on our objectives and ideals then I believe that we can turn the vision which Sean Sabhat held into reality.”