Higgins breaks his silence on stalemate to issue warning
Martin in secret meeting/Labour option 'not viable'
President Michael D Higgins has warned political parties that he is watching developments and is fully aware of his constitutional influence.
The president made his first comments on the post-election stalemate yesterday as Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil moved closer to agreeing a deal on a minority government.
The Irish Independent has learned that Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin attended a secret meeting with Enda Kenny in Government Buildings yesterday, while negotiating teams from the two parties moved their talks to Trinity College.
Fine Gael sources were last night "very hopeful" that a deal can be agreed this week, clearing the way for individual talks with Independents.
"At this stage the target is to get around eight of the 14 Independents on board," the source said, adding that the Labour Party is no longer seen as a viable option.
Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny was hopeful that Joan Burton would get her six TDs on side for a new coalition but senior members of both parties last night accepted that is now extremely unlikely.
It comes as Mr Higgins' intervened to publicly state that he is "very, very well aware" of Article 13 of the constitution which gives him the "absolute power" to decide whether the Dáil should be dissolved if the Taoiseach tells him a government can't be formed.
"I'm aware of both the responsibilities that I have that are precise and the capacities I have that may be imprecise - so I remain fully aware and watching what will unfold," he said in reply to a question at an event in Dublin yesterday.
"My hope is that whatever happens will be to the benefit of the Irish people."
The two negotiating teams have now agreed on a basic framework for how a Fine Gael-led minority government will be "facilitated" by Fianna Fáil.
It is understood that there will be a written agreement between the parties which outlines the level of support Fianna Fáil will be expected to give.
However, sources said the "confidence and supply" arrangement will also note that Fianna Fáil reserves the right to act as the main opposition party in the 32nd Dáil and to oppose legislation that is not related to financial issues.
Last night, the parties exchanged policy papers on issues such as Irish Water and health and sources expressed confidence that a deal is in the offing.
However, spokesmen for both parties were refusing to "confirm or deny" that Mr Martin attended a side meeting in Government Buildings.
Members of the Independent Alliance also held a meeting in Dublin yesterday amid claims that TDs involved in the talks had submitted requests totalling €13bn.
A source within the Department of Finance last night confirmed to the Irish Independent that costings on a number of projects had been compiled for Michael Noonan and this figure was conservative.
However, separately, a Fine Gael strategist accepted that the Independents were not looking for everything on the list of requests submitted but had sought "to see what was feasible".
Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice told Galway FM the €13bn was being "twisted" and that Independents did "absolutely not" go in with an unreasonable shopping list.
He argued that much of what was proposed was already budgeted for. "If we are talking about getting the west of Ireland up and running, obviously it will cost a few pound, but it will cost nothing like what they were on about," he said.