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Cross-party deal unlikely as Gormley seeks meeting

A CROSS-party deal to tackle the budgetary crisis over the next four years was looking increasingly unlikely last night.

Green Party leader John Gormley appealed to the opposition to take a "leap of faith" by agreeing to meet Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and himself to discuss the best way to reduce the public finance deficit over the next four years.

But his proposal received a cool response from the opposition, which claimed it had more to do with saving Mr Gormley's Green Party than saving the economy.

Mr Gormley had said if all the political parties agreed on the drastic measures needed, then international markets and the EU Commission would be reassured that the recovery would not be thrown off track by a new government.

He said he was sending a letter to the leaders of Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein to ask them to take part in a meeting after they had examined the books in the Department of Finance.

"I'm asking people to put those doubts aside in the national interest to see can we get a consensus around an issue which is of national vital interest," he said.

Although none of the opposition parties has ruled out taking part in such a meeting, there is deep suspicion that the aim is to give political cover to the Government ahead of its cost-cutting Budget in December.

Mr Gormley admitted that his plan to find "political consensus" among all of the parties could fail.

"I hope it's possible. I accept, of course, that there is a political reality that it may not be possible but consensus is something that you cannot impose. You have to earn that and you have to listen," he said.

The Green Party leader insisted that he had backing for his plan from Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who last week ruled out detailed talks with the opposition and suggested they come up with their own proposals.

His invitation to a cross-party budgetary meeting was being sent out last night to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain.

Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan said he believed the Greens were genuinely trying to find a political platform but had found that Mr Cowen had "thrown a bucket of cold water over it".

"My own view is that it's really too late in the political cycle to have anything useful come from this and I don't think Fianna Fail are sincere, even if the Greens may be," he said.

Mr Noonan said his party realised how serious the situation was -- and the damage it was doing to the lives of ordinary people.

"Will any of our kids be getting a job in Ireland and will be talking to our grandchildren on Skype?" he asked.

Sinn Fein finance spokesman Arthur Morgan said his party was prepared to talk to anybody but would not back the Government's budgetary strategy.

"Most people believe that Mr Gormley's proposal is more about saving the Green Party politically than it is about saving the state economically," he said.

A Labour party spokesman claimed it was not clear if Mr Gormley was "flying a kite" or announcing an official Government proposal.

"If and when we eventually get the letter, which he's been talking about for five days, we'll consider it and we'll respond," he said.

Irish Independent