Merging water and property charges could 'bridge gap' between FG and FF
Parties to hammer out terms of how minority government could work
Merging water charges and the property tax is on the table as a potential compromise that would open the door to a minority government deal between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Irish Water remains the most contentious issue as senior politicians from both parties are set to meet as early as this evening to begin hammering out the terms of how a minority government could work.
With the next Dáil vote for selecting a Taoiseach looming on Thursday there may be just days to stave off another election.
Fianna Fáil wants to suspend charges and abolish Irish Water in favour of a national water directorate, while Fine Gael insists that payments for water must stay.
The Irish Independent has learned that figures in both parties are now talking up the idea of "amalgamating" water charges and the property tax into a so-called "household package". This would allow Fianna Fáil to claim that charges have been effectively scrapped, while still potentially satisfying EU rules, according to a senior Fine Gael source.
A high-ranking Fianna Fáil figure said the move could "bridge the gap" between the two parties. By linking charges to the property tax it would be collected by Revenue, ensuring greater compliance - but it is unclear how rural dwellers who pay into group water schemes would be affected.
Junior Minister Michael Ring previously raised the idea of attaching water charges to the property tax with former environment minister Phil Hogan. He suggested adding €50 for water services onto the property tax. Asked for his position, Mr Ring told the Irish Independent it could be a way out of the current impasse. "Water charges were the straw that broke the camel's back. It's not that people wouldn't pay, it's that they couldn't pay," he said.
Sources at both parties said the details of when and where the meeting between them takes place have yet to be finalised. A Fianna Fáil source said last night that today's expected talks are to be held at an as yet undetermined "neutral venue".
Discussions are likely to focus on the "ground rules" for a minority government, including how negotiating and passing Budgets would work. Irish Water and other specific policy issues will "follow on from that" in subsequent meetings.
A Fine Gael source agreed that talks will begin on the workings of a minority government and Irish Water and other issues like the USC were likely to be left to later meetings.
Having rejected acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny's partnership government proposal, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last night repeated his insistence that Fine Gael must be prepared to support a minority government led by his party if he gets more support from Independent TDs. He also said that "cool heads" were now required as negotiations began.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael has appeared to soften its stance of rejecting a Fianna Fáil-led minority government. Acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald was asked on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics' if that was a precondition of the talks. She replied: "I don't think precondition is the right language... I think we actually have to have discussions about what a minority government would look like." She said Mr Kenny's partnership government proposal remained on the table.
Independent Alliance TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran told the same programme: "I think there will be a deal, but it won't be struck before Thursday."
Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae told the Irish Independent that postponing the vote would be "a get-out-of-jail card for everybody... I'd rather see it being put off for another couple of days if it could be got right rather than just going straight for an election."