Saturday 16 December 2017

Comments by ‘that character’ won’t distract from government talks – Barry Cowen

Housing tops agenda as FG and FF back at the negotiating table

Acting health minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Acting health minister Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor

TALKS between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on a deal to re-elect Enda Kenny as Taoiseach now hinge on reaching an agreement over housing policy.

Negotiators from the two parties are back at Trinity College this afternoon where the issue of housing is top of the agenda.

While both sides suggested that a final deal could be concluded tonight, there is likely to be some tension in the room over Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s comments that the emphasis on water charges during the talks was “ridiculous” and suspending them was the “wrong” thing to do.

Asked if the row would set the mood for today’s meeting, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said: “I’ve not interest or comment to make on that person’s ambition or career path.

“I’m merely focused on our duty to those that we represent. “

He added: “The old adage that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, that holds firm despite what the character you mentioned said yesterday.”

However, on her way into the talks Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald backed up her Fine Gael colleague, saying: “Leo made his point of view very clear and I think he stated the reality as it is.”

Both politicians said a conclusion to the mammoth talks is within sight but Mr Cowen indicated Fianna Fáil will need further concessions in the area of housing.

“Today our focus is to address the whole area of housing and homelessness. It’s not as if somebody suggested it wasn’t discussed before. It was but there was no agreement. We would hope to reach agreement today.

“We very conscious of that whole sector and the need for short and medium and long-term proposals,” he said.

The Offaly TD said they wanted assurances on how a Fine Gael-led minority government would deal with public housing, private housing, the rental sector and families mortgage distress.

“It’s a very pivotal important issue for us,” he said, adding that they will be demanding that rent supplement is raised despite a Department of Social Protection report which suggests such a move could cause a further spike in rents.

“The contention by government that the recommendations of the Department are such that they don’t feel it necessary… there is an abnormal market out there and there has to be interference in that abnormal market in order to make it normal again.

“We won’t accept the view that there is an unelected government or a permanent government that decides on this issues,” Mr Cowen said.

Ms Fitzgerald declined to outline Fine Gael’s priorities going in to the meeting but admitted there were a “a small number” of stumbling blocks.

“We would hope that we would make good progress today. There are outstanding issues still which we are hoping we can reach a satisfactory conclusion on today,” she said.

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