After weeks of shadow-boxing and pretence, a blistering row between the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael leaderships suggests that it is unlikely that any pact will be agreed soon to form a new government in Dublin.
The prospect of a second election looks closer after a formal coalition was firmly rejected by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin during a terse 10-minute meeting with Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny.
Martin said Kenny threatened that he had to accept a proposal for an “equal partnership government” or face the prospect of another election. He suggested that the proposition on Wednesday had been “choreographed” for the benefit of public opinion, rather than a genuine offer.
However, this was described as “nonsense” by Fine Gael and Kenny claimed Martin’s decision to walk away from the coalition talks “was driven by narrow party interests rather than the national interest”.
While Kenny made a second pitch for a full coalition, the strongest chance of a new government is a Fine Gael minority administration supported by Fianna Fail, who would abstain in key parliament votes as required. The Dail is due to meet again next Thursday to make a third attempt at electing a Taoiseach. A decision by Fianna Fail to abstain then would see Enda Kenny returned as Taoiseach and potentially kick-start his uncertain new administration.
But despite widespread doubts over its sincerity, Kenny has stuck by his preferred offer of a ‘grand coalition’. In a statement released on Friday night, Mr Kenny said “ending civil war politics is the best thing for our country now”.
The Fine Gael leader was recognising the strong public consensus for the two right-wing parties to come together after a second failed attempt to elect a Taoiseach this week.
On Wednesday, Mr Kenny had support from 51 TDs, down from 57 in the first vote as the Labour Party abstained. Mr Martin had 43 votes, and socialist Ruth Coppinger -- the first woman to be nominated for Taoiseach -- had 10 votes.
Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said the vote for a taoiseach was a farce and an elaborate political charade.
“Coincidentally it’s now 40 days and 40 nights since the general election that this farce has continued,” he said.
“While Jesus Christ wandered in the wilderness contemplating the sins of humanity and maybe the need to save it, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael have left this country in a political wilderness but not contemplating how they can save humanity but rather how they can pursue the drug of power and political office without any concern for actual substantial issues that affect our ordinary citizens.”
Waterford Independent TD John Halligan described Fianna Fail and Fine Gael as “a disgrace to democracy” for their failure to “join together for the sake of the country.”
“Bitter enemies in serious conflicts around the world have managed to overcome their differences. It is an appalling affront to democracy to treat the Irish electorate like this”, Mr Halligan said.
But Martin has claimed that Kenny took the prospect of a minority government “off the table” on Wednesday evening, essentially threatening that it was a coalition or a second election. He insisted the “best interest of the Irish people are not served by a coalition by Fianna Fail and Fine Gael”.
Kenny responded by saying the rejection was a “serious mistake” on the part of Fianna Fail and “one which was driven by narrow party interests rather than the national interest”. Helen McEntee TD, Secretary of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, described “an historic offer, representing seismic change in the political landscape”.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had been engaged in a phoney war and that they need come to terms with the new political reality that they can no longer control both government and opposition between them. He said there had been six weeks of “play acting”.
“It was always clear from the election results that the only real option was for the two conservative parties to form a government,” he said. “The policies of both parties are entirely compatible. The civil war excuse is bogus.”
Mr Adams added: “It will be entirely reprehensible if Fine Gael and Fianna Fail came back next week, having suspended the Dail, and go through the same charade again. That would be unacceptable.
“They should either do a deal or they should admit that there won’t be one. It’s time they were honest with people.”