Is Varad­kar eye­ing up a deal with Sinn Féin?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - CERVICAL CANCER SCANDAL - By John Lee PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR john.lee@mailon­sun­day.ie

AS­TON­ISH­ING as it may seem, there is a grow­ing be­lief in Fine Gael that Leo Varad­kar could turn to Sinn Féin to sup­port his Gov­ern­ment in some form this au­tumn.

The his­toric change is pre­dicted as the con­fi­dence-and-sup­ply ar­range­ment with Fianna Fáil is due to ex­pire af­ter the Oc­to­ber Bud­get.

Se­nior fig­ures in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil be­lieve there is still a pos­si­bil­ity the two par­ties could ex­tend the agree­ment but bad tem­pered ex­changes be­tween them, in re­cent weeks, have cast doubt on whether the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Mar­tin will take up an op­tion to con­tinue the ar­range­ment. And now Fine Gael TDs have told the MoS there is an in­creas­ing be­lief in the party that the pre­vi­ously un­con­scionable pro­posal of an ar­range­ment with Sinn Féin is now pos­si­ble.

A Fine Gael TD pointed to Mr Varad­kar’s tone of ad­dress and body lan­guage to­wards new Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou Mc­Don­ald re­cently. Co-op­er­a­tion on a re­cent Seanad by­elec­tion be­tween the two par­ties and the cru­cial sup­port of Sinn Féin for the Ju­di­cial Ap­point­ments Bill also in­di­cate an evolv­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Though se­nior Fine Gael fig­ures have in the past ruled out coali­tion with Sinn Féin, there is no stated op­po­si­tion to ac­cept­ing sup­port for its mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment in a con­fi­dence-and-sup­ply ar­range­ment.

Sinn Féin voted, at its ard fheis last Novem­ber, to go into coali­tion with ei­ther Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil as a ju­nior coali­tion party. Cru­cially, un­like Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, Fine Gael does not have to bring a coali­tion deal to its grass­roots to rat­ify.

‘Since Mary Lou be­came leader there is less of an ob­sta­cle to us do­ing busi­ness with Sinn Féin in the Dáil,’ said a Fine Gael TD yes­ter­day.

He said: ‘Leo likes be­ing Taoiseach, of course. He is an in­tel­li­gent man. Is he re­ally go­ing to let the con­fi­dence-and-sup­ply ar­range­ment with Fianna Fáil fall, then go to the coun­try with the high prob­a­bil­ity that he will not come back with enough seats to form a gov­ern­ment?’

There is also a pos­si­bil­ity Fine Gael will look to Sinn Féin as coali­tion part­ners. Ms Mc­Don­ald has said in in­ter­views that her party would pre­fer a full coali­tion.

In­de­pen­dent Al­liance Trans­port Min­is­ter Shane Ross is spon­sor­ing the Ju­di­cial Ap­point­ments Bill as it makes slow progress through the Dáil. Though Mr Ross is part of the Gov­ern­ment, the Bill is ul­ti­mately be­ing han­dled by Fine Gael Jus­tice Min­is­ter Char­lie Flana­gan.

Since Fianna Fáil op­poses the Bill, the Gov­ern­ment is re­liant on Sinn Féin sup­port to pass it. Sinn Féin, how­ever, says it wants progress on sen­tenc­ing guide­lines be­fore it gives its sup­port to the Bill in the Dáil.

Fine Gael sources said that Mr Varad­kar has soft­ened his stance on al­low­ing Sinn Féin to im­pose manda­tory sen­tenc­ing guide­lines on judges in re­turn for their sup­port.

A party spokesman played down any link-up, though, say­ing: ‘The Taoiseach and the party have been clear on this. No deal what­so­ever with SF.’

‘Less of on ob­sta­cle since Mary Lou be­came leader’

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