Fianna Fail rejects 'historic' power-sharing deal with Fine Gael
FIANNA Fail has spurned a "historic" proposal from its age-old enemy to form a power-sharing government to rescue the country from political stalemate.
Fine Gael, the outgoing senior coalition partner, described the rejection of its advances as a "serious missed opportunity" amid fears for the ongoing economic recovery.
Voters now face the prospect of going back to the polls if a stable minority government cannot be formed within the coming weeks.
Fine Gael leader and caretaker Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally called on Wednesday evening for a "full partnership government" after February's general election threw up a massive schism in the electorate.
The proposal, which would have ended more than 90 years of bitter civil-war era rivalry between the pair, had overwhelming support from within Fine Gael ranks.
Both parties held meetings of their parliamentary members on Thursday on the prospect of a ground-breaking agreement.
But after four hours of discussions with his own party, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin delivered his rebuke in a frosty 10-minute meeting with Mr Kenny.
Afterwards, he insisted Fianna Fail had campaigned to put Fine Gael out of power.
"We made a core commitment to the Irish people, we reiterated it time and time again and we are not going back on it," he said.
Fine Gael said the offer remains on the table.
But with both sides trading insults on the choreography of the offer, or the haste with which it was turned down, it appears unlikely they will strike a deal anytime soon.
Mr Martin said he would support a minority Fine Gael-led government from the Opposition benches, if he could not form one himself.
Concerns would remain over the stability of such an administration.
Bookmakers immediately slashed the odds on a second general election being held on the back of Fianna Fail's refusal to enter a "grand coalition" with Fine Gael.
After its meeting, Fine Gael party secretary Helen McEntee said: "This is an historic offer, representing seismic change in the political landscape.
"I believe now more than ever we need to put the people first."
Catherine Byrne, Fine Gael's acting chairwoman, said a "partnership government" is the best way to assure stability.
"Fine Gael TDs and Senators overwhelmingly supported a partnership government, as the best way to provide a stable and lasting government to deal with the issues concerning people and the challenges facing the country," she said.
However, a slew of senior Fianna Fail figures remained trenchant in their opposition to a partnership.
Niall Collins, the party's justice spokesman, said it had sought votes on the basis that it would not support Fine Gael in power.
"I think to roll over now to enter a grand partnership or coalition with Fine Gael would be a betrayal of that," he said.
John McGuinness was one of the few high-profile Fianna Fail figures to publicly back the idea.
"I have no problem with a partnership government that gives 50-50 to everyone involved," he said.
Willie O'Dea, a former Fianna Fail minister, campaigned on the basis of not supporting a Fine Gael minority government.
"The people of this country voted to get rid of the outgoing government; they voted to get rid of Enda Kenny as taoiseach," he said.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Fine Gael and Fianna Fail had engaged in 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."