Tuesday 22 August 2017

Coalition talks intensify

Talks on forming a coalition Government have intensified between Fine Gael and Labour ahead of a weekend deadline.

As negotiating teams prepared for a briefing from economist Colm McCarthy, top Labour negotiator Pat Rabbitte described the discussions as "workmanlike".

"We're getting to the business end of the agenda now," Mr Rabbitte said.

Mr McCarthy, author of the Bord Snip report, is continuing the economic briefings given by the Department of Finance, the National Treasury Management Agency and Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan.

Both sides claimed the information confirmed the depth of the crisis facing the country.

But Fianna Fail's Dara Calleary accused the parties of softening up the electorate before abandoning their "cynical" election promises.

"Time and again throughout the election campaign we pointed out directly to Fine Gael and Labour that the promises they were making were unrealistic, uncosted and simply not feasible," Mr Calleary said.

"Despite this, they continued to make ever more outrageous commitments which they were never going to be in a position to deliver.

"What they are attempting to do now is blame others, claim they didn't know how acute the crisis was, and manage expectations as they prepare to backslide from their Five Point Plan and the range of other commitments."

The negotiating teams have also gone head to head on their respective health and education policies since formal talks began on Tuesday.

Under pressure from Europe, the two sides have set the end of the week as a deadline to secure a stable pact and programme for government.

Both sides accept the weekend target for a deal.

The negotiations at Government Buildings are complex, with the parties at odds over the length of time it will take to turn around the budget deficit, tax, public sector cuts, water charges and how to tackle bondholder responsibility for banking debts.

Labour is under pressure not to strike a deal from both its youth wing and the Unite trade union, which has called on the party to back away from joining with the centre-right Fine Gael and form a strong left-leaning opposition.

Colm Lawless, Labour youth national chairman, urged members to vote against any Programme for Government at the party's special delegate conference, pencilled in for Sunday.

"In serving the national interest, Labour can provide the robust and necessary opposition to keep Fine Gael in check," he said.

The Fine Gael team is led by highly-regarded finance spokesman Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan, who masterminded the historic election success, and combative front-bencher Alan Shatter.

Labour's negotiators include the party's former leader Mr Rabbitte, deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, constitutional expert Brendan Howlin and policy director Colm O'Reardon.

A quick deal is needed as Ireland faces a series of challenging hurdles linked to its multibillion-euro bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, and the banking crisis.

The parties are also aiming to put a deal on paper before the Dail sits again on March 9.

It will have to be signed off by Labour's special delegate council before the two sides can agree.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny is due to travel to Helsinki tomorrow for a meeting of the European People's Party, with which Fine Gael is affiliated.

The contacts are intended to open the door for a charm offensive and garner support to renegotiate the 85 billion euro loans.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore will meet left-leaning European colleagues separately tomorrow.

Thrashing out a coalition with like-minded independents is another option for Fine Gael.

But it could prove difficult given that a sizeable number of left-leaning TDs were elected at the weekend, while former stockbroker and Senator Shane Ross is also demanding a referendum on the IMF/EU loans.

Mr Kenny has vowed to force Europe's hand on renegotiation of the deal, but has made no mention of a referendum.



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