Main Irish opposition rules out grand coalition with PM’s party

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s main opposition party Fianna Fail, leading in opinion polls, on Thursday ruled out forming a grand coalition with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s Fine Gael after the Feb. 8 election.

Varadkar said for the first time on Wednesday that he would consider entering an unprecedented coalition government with the country’s second-largest party and historic rival if the election produced an inconclusive result.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin rebuffed a similar offer from Varadkar’s predecessor, Enda Kenny, after Fine Gael emerged as the bigger party following the last election in 2016. Fianna Fail instead entered a co-operation deal to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority administration from opposition.

“Our response is we will not be in a grand coalition, people want change in this country, they want Fine Gael out of office. I’ve made it clear we have, we want to go into government with other center parties, clearly Labour and the Green Party would be ones we’d be interested in,” Martin told reporters.

“For the last four or five months we’ve had Leo Varadkar and Fine Gael attacking Fianna Fail, demonizing Fianna Fail and then hey presto, overnight, you know what we’ll go into government with Fianna Fail. That doesn’t make sense to the public, I don’t think it has credibility.”

Fine Gael trails its fellow center-right rival in opinion polls that suggest whichever party finishes on top on Feb. 8 would struggle to form a coalition government with a collection of smaller parties.

As both refuse to govern with the third-largest party, Sinn Fein, that leaves another minority government where one of the main parties props up the other from the opposition benches as the only alternative to a grand coalition.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)