Is Varadkar eyeing up a deal with Sinn Féin?
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’