Ó Cuív: Unwise to assume Fianna Fáil's membership will support coalition with Fine Gael

By Aoife Moore

It is unwise to assume Fianna Fáil's membership will support a coalition with Fine Gael, according to one TD.

Éamon Ó Cuív, the Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West says that there is "serious disquiet" brewing among membership of the party that they are headed for another five-year government formation with Leo Varadkar's party.

"There seems to be an assumption in media reporting over the last few days that members will automatically endorse an agreement arrived at by leadership," he said.

"From what I hear speaking to FF local reps and members across the country, this could be way off the mark.

There is serious disquiet within the party about forming such a long-term coalition.

"Since the proposal to go into long term with Fine Gael, as proposed in this two and a bit party coalition, there has been disquiet about it.

"The main issue among members is they don't think the two parties are compatible, the same reason that The Greens and Labour have given.

"The impression is that an agreement has already been made in Fianna Fáil, but it's the members who will decide, and people are taking it for granted."

Mr Ó Cuív added that Fianna Fáil is a membership-led organisation and that the members themselves are the "ultimate authority within the party".

A Fianna Fáil Councillor told the Examiner that the party is now split on the issue, as the Coronavirus pandemic puts the need for government to the fore.

"There are a lot of mixed feelings within the party, a lot of people think we should avoid Fine Gael, personally we had a meeting of Councillors and communicated to headquarters that we'd prefer to go into opposition, but everyone understands the need for government now, so it's hard to gauge."

Last month, Ográ Fianna Fáil, the party's youth contingent also repeated their stance that they would oppose any coalition at an Ard Fheis, and expected that to be reflected across the wider party membership.override

Mr Ó Cuív's comments come as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are hoping to have their "framework for government" policy paper finished this week.

The two traditional parties have agreed that a broad programme for government should be designed by respective negotiating teams, before being distributed to parties with whom they would be interested in speaking.

Both parties have remained tight lipped on the contents of the framework, which is being drawn up by the likes of Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary and Tánaiste Simon Coveney via teleconference due to social distancing measures, but it has been acknowledged that the document itself will be concise and a shorter document than would be expected, as this is "only the second step" in government formation, according to one Fianna Fáil source.

"Once the other parties have seen the initial outline of what we see as viable policies, they can have a read of that and see if it's workable for them, but it's a work ongoing," the source added.

The negotiating teams have agreed that the contents would be confidential and when finalised will be reviewed by their respective reference groups before being shared with other parties.

The Greens, Labour and Social Democrats are the most attractive options to provide the "third leg" of government, to both parties, who have ruled out working with Sinn Féin, however the three smaller parties have all publicly stated they are unlikely to be involved in a coalition, citing irreconcilable differences on policy and outlook for the future.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are eight short of a majority, with 72 TDs between them, and have both privately said that they would prefer not to pin the future of the government on independent TDs, who do not provide enough stability.

"It's a broad framework to be able to go to other parties with because we are very strongly of the view that stable government cannot be formed without a third party," Fine Gael Party Chairman Martin Hayden said.

"What we want to do is put together, is a of a set of agreed principles that we would have as a basis for programme for government and ask other parties for their input.

"It will be up to is each party to look at it, to come back with their own viewpoint, and you'd hope other parties would engage in a productive way."