The Dublin parliament has descended further into farce as Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have made no progress towards the formation of a government, more than five weeks after the 26 County general election.
With both right-wing parties determined not to involve Sinn Fein or the other parties of the left, a government is not possible without an agreement between them. However, it was only this week before the two leaders, Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny respectively, spoke to each ther.
During a meagre four-minute conversation, the pair agreed that they would continue negotiations separately with Independent TDs before holding their first set of talks after Wednesday’s vote for Taoiseach.
Tthe pointlessness of the talks with the independents is a matter of increasing controversy, even amongst those involved in the talks, as their involvement can make no difference to the ultimate requirement for an alliance between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. It is understood both parties hope to ‘bolt on’ enough TDs so that a minority government can function with the supporting party able to abstain on the key votes. The purpose of such a face-saving position is that it would help prevent Sinn Fein from claiming to be the main opposition party.
A bizarre communications breakdown this week meant that calls and text messages between the two party leaders went unanswered. Despite one phone call taking place, a misunderstanding meant that the inevitable encounter between the party leaders has been postponed for another week. Such talks will not now take place until after Wednesday’s Dail vote for Taoiseach, which is doomed to fail, but will be watched to see how many independents have now bought into the offers from Martin and Kenny.
Meanwhile, the mood between the two civil war parties has turned sour. Senior Fine Gael sources accused Fianna Fail of “playing games”, claiming that Martin felt “spooked” by Fine Gael’s talks with Independents. Fianna Fail rejected the criticism as absolute nonsense and accused Fine Gael of reaching “new depths of desperation”.
It now appears likely that there will be no government in place until May at the earliest. Although there is no legal deadline to the government-formation process, a snap election could be called if it appears that a deal is impossible.
Kenny, who has repeatedly refused to quit as leader of his party despite Fine Gael’s drubbing in the election, has already declared he will not back a Fianna Fail minority government.
Asked when the talks with Fianna Fail would conclude, he said: “I don’t want to raise expectations here to be quite honest with you, the formation of government is a really serious business, we have been really serious about business with Independents and smaller parties over the past five days.
“I cannot give you the outcome of when the this will be finalise but I hope to work and continue to work at it diligently and constructively. I do hope the Fianna Fail party who said that they would be responsible in this matter will do so.”
Water charges are seen as a stumbling block to the talks, with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael holding opposing positions on payment. Fianna Fail is refusing to be associated with the charge, which was mandated by the IMF as part of the financial bailout programme for the last Fianna Fail government.
Meanwhile, Irish Water claims it has been warned that it may not be legally able to scrap the water charges. Under European law, there is no option to return to supply the service for free, according to legal advice provided to the company.
Anti Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy said the legal advice was commissioned by Irish Water after the general election. “The only way to ensure abolition (of Irish Water) is to step up the boycott (of charges) and a massive united demonstration on the streets,” he said.
Sinn Fein is calling on Irish Water to publish the legal opinion in full. The party has claimed it has been leaked to suit the political agenda of certain parties.
“It is very suspicious the timing of this leaked legal opinion because it falls nicely into the hands in terms of forming a government for Fianna Fail to get them off the hook and say ‘it is nothing to do with us, it is the legal opinion’,” said party MEP Lynn Boylan.
“I would be very suspicious of the timing of this leak. If Irish Water have nothing to hide then let us see the legal opinion.”