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Cross-party talks fail to get agreement on €15bn cuts

The unprecedented talks between four party leaders yesterday failed to build any agreement or consensus on how cutbacks of up to €15bn can be found over the next four years.

Different approaches to the widening hole in the country's finances emerged after both opposition leaders met with Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Green Party leader John Gormley in Government Buildings yesterday.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen, however, welcomed the "unequivocal commitment" from Fine Gael and Labour to meeting the target of reducing the country's deficit to 3pc by 2014.

Following the two-and-a-half hour meeting, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny pledged to publish a four-year plan which would be a mix of austerity measures and growth.

But Labour leader Eamon Gilmore only committed to publishing plans which will address this year's draconian Budget.

"We will produce our own recovery plan which will point out how we feel we can reach this target by 2014, based not just on austerity but on a really strong jobs and growth programme," Mr Kenny said.

"Fine Gael is not just treating this as a fiscal or economic exercise."

But Mr Gilmore did not go as far as Mr Kenny and only committed to publishing plans for this year's Budget.

And he refused to say if he now believed more than €3bn in cutbacks was required in the December Budget -- claiming his party wanted to see definitive growth rate figures from the Department of Finance first.

He did, however, reiterate his commitment to bringing down the deficit to 3pc by 2014.

"The Government agreed the 3pc target with the European Commission . . . it was the view of the Labour Party then and now that, in the country's interests, the main opposition parties who aspire to be in Government should be consistent with . . . that objective," Mr Gilmore said.

Green Party leader Mr Gormley, who was the first to seek the consensus talks, insisted they had been a success -- even though nothing new had been agreed.

He claimed the meeting had produced agreement on bringing the deficit down by 2014, the need for a Dail debate on the economy and ongoing discussions between the four parties' finance spokespeople.

However, all of these issues had been agreed before the four party leaders started their talks.

The Taoiseach rejected suggestions a general election was needed to give a government a new mandate for a four-year plan. He insisted he was in a position to undertake the plan, adding he had the "same mandate as any other Taoiseach".

An election would only sow more confusion than clarity, Mr Cowen said. And he welcomed Fine Gael and Labour's reiteration of their commitment to the 3pc target by 2014.

"I don't think it was ever the case that we would have full detailed agreement on all aspects. The fact that we're all on the same page in terms of getting to this 3pc deficit by 2014 shouldn't be underestimated," Mr Cowen said.

Analysis, Brendan Keenan

Irish Independent