Coalition talks won't conclude in time for crucial Labour vote
Severe doubts were being cast last night by Fine Gael and Labour Party figures on the prospect of a coalition deal being struck until early next week.
Labour Party sources said there was "every likelihood" the party's national conference required to approve the deal would have to be postponed beyond Sunday into early next week.
The negotiating teams are only getting down to the real business on a coalition deal, but Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore will today attend meetings of EU leaders in Helsinki and Athens.
Mr Kenny is expected to talk to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a conference of the European People's Party in the Finnish capital.
The Taoiseach-elect's hopes of easing the €85bn bailout burden were dealt a blow when Chancellor Merkel virtually ruled out lowering the crippling interest rate.
Mr Gilmore is attending the Party of European Socialists leaders' conference in Greece.
"It looks like it will head into the weekend. There are two weighty documents and you have two leaders out of the country, which doesn't help," a Fine Gael source said.
Fine Gael and Labour admit the state of the economy is worse than previously thought and fiscal policy remains the key sticking point.
"It hasn't even reached the really crucial points yet on the macro-economic strategy," a Labour source said.
Dismissing suggestions of a rift over the allocation of Cabinet positions so early in the talks, a senior party source said Labour may have to delay its planned conference into early next week.
"We need to get a bit of perspective here. You could be looking at Monday or Tuesday -- if necessary. I think it's in the balance. There's every likelihood that it will be (early next week)," the source said. The parties were briefed yesterday by economist Colm McCarthy. The Bord Snip report author has just finalised a report on the semi-state sector, which has yet to be published.
Fine Gael is committed to abolishing 145 quangos and State agencies, as well as privatising a number of state assets to raise the funds to invest in an economic stimulus package.
The negotiating teams have also got into the policy areas covering health and education.
Following briefings by the Department of Finance, the National Treasury Management Agency and Central Bank, the parties say they have got more detail than before the general election.
Fine Gael negotiator Phil Hogan said both sides were working hard to reach a deal by the weekend. "There's a fair lot of agreement on the policy front. Yes, things are going well," he said.