Northern Ireland news

Fianna Fáil targets Fine Gael in coalition talks after ruling out talks with Sinn Féin

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will forcus his efforts to form a government on Fine Gael. Picture Yui Mok/PA Wire

FIANNA Fáil will today embark on a major charm offensive with Fine Gael in an effort to form a new government in the Republic after its parliamentary party agreed not to enter into talks with Sinn Féin.

While Micheál Martin signalled after the election that he was potentially amenable to talking to Mary Lou McDonald about sharing power, Fianna Fáil TDs yesterday rejected the proposition.

Mr Martin's high-risk strategy to woo Fine Gael could see the southern electorate back at the polls if Leo Varadkar fails to respond positively to his overtures and Sinn Féin fails to form an alternative government.

Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney has already indicated that his party will not prop up Fianna Fáil in a confidence and supply arrangement – the reverse situation to what sustained the Dublin government in the last mandate.

Saturday's election saw Fianna Fáil secure most seats in the Dáil with 38 TDs, compared to Sinn Féin's 37 and Fine Gael's 35.

Ms McDonald has said her preference is to form a Sinn Féin-led coalition of the left that would include the Greens, Social Democrats, Solidarity-People Before Profit and a host of independents. However, most observers are sceptical about her potential to reach the desired threshold of 80 TDs.

Read More: Sinn Féin opens discussions with potential coalition partners

The Sinn Féin leader has written to Mr Martin in a bid to open negotiations between the parties about forming a government, though she conceded there were "huge differences" between the two parties.

She told yesterday's parliamentary party meeting that it would be "quite a challenge" for Fianna Fáil to sign up to a government of change but there is an obligation to act urgently.

Mary Lou McDonald described Micheál Martin's refusal to speak to Sinn Féin as 'untenable'. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

Asked about the potential for a so-called grand coalition between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Ms McDonald said it would be the worst outcome and a step backwards.

Read More: Fianna Fáil edges Sinn Féin in race to win most Dáil seats

"We are stepping our way through a process where we work out what this government for change might look like," she said.

"My first preference is for a government without Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael – the seats are now filled and it looks like it would be tricky to form such a government."

Ahead of Fianna Fáil TDs agreeing not to speak to Sinn Féin, Ms McDonald described Mr Martin's position as "untenable".

"We represent such a significant section of Irish opinion and I think anybody who followed and participated in the election cannot have missed the appetite for change, it was writ large - everybody agreed that that was fundamentally the theme of the election," she said.

Speaking after Fianna Fáil's parliamentary party met yesterday afternoon, Limerick County TD Niall Collins told Reuters that the party was fully behind not going into government with Sinn Féin.

He also said a possible coalition with Fine Gael was not really discussed at the meeting, adding it may not be possible to form a government.

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