Cowen rules out prospect of cross-party Budget talks
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night ruled out "tying himself" into the cross-party budgetary talks proposed by Green Party leader John Gormley.
His comments were being awaited by the opposition parties, who wanted to find out if he was serious about giving them a real role in drawing up plans to rescue the public finances over the next four years.
Although Mr Cowen expressed a willingness to meet the opposition party leaders, he warned that the Government had a responsibility to produce its own four-year plan.
"I'm not tying you into a process that you may have reservations about or I'm not tying myself into a process that suggests that we all end up with some arrangement where bits of everyone's proposals can be considered. That wouldn't meet the requirements of the situation," he said.
Mr Cowen's comments during Leader's Questions in the Dail were interpreted by the opposition parties as further evidence that there would be no cross-party talks of any substance.
Mr Cowen also warned against the difficulty of achieving consensus on a budgetary strategy by referring to Labour leader Eamon Gilmore's promise not to cut tax or social welfare.
"It would be very difficult to see how we could make the adjustment," he said.
A Labour spokesman said Mr Cowen and Mr Gormley -- who wants a "political consensus" -- seemed to be talking about two different processes.
"We'll have to consider the situation now. Mr Gormley is looking for a reply by the end of the week and we'll try to accommodate him," he said.
A Fine Gael source said that party leader Enda Kenny had given Mr Cowen "one last chance" to show he was serious about the process, which Mr Cowen had not taken.
"We'll be going ahead with our own alternative budgetary strategy," he added.
It also emerged last night that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan knew about the Green Party's plan for cross-party talks before Mr Cowen -- because he had been told by Green Party minister Eamon Ryan.
The Government will have to organise and conclude cross-party talks within the next four weeks to meet the European Commission's deadline. It wants the government's strategy to show how it will reduce the €18.5bn public finance deficit to 3pc of national output by 2014 to be delivered by the middle of next month.
The cross-party talks plan was discussed by Mr Cowen and Mr Gormley in their regular pre-cabinet meeting yesterday and at Cabinet itself.
A spokesman for Mr Gormley denied there was a gap between him and Mr Cowen on the cross- party talks.
"He is satisfied with the Taoiseach's response. The Taoiseach has said he's open to talks," he said.
Mr Gormley has said if all the political parties agreed on the drastic budgetary measures needed for the next four years, then international markets and the EU Commission would be reassured that the recovery would not be thrown off track by a new government.