Friday 23 March 2018

FG-FF minority talks finally kick off as cost of non-party demands grows

Micheál Martin: talks with FG. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Micheál Martin: talks with FG. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Fine Gael is pushing for a 'watertight' deal with Fianna Fáil that will last at least three budgets as concerns mount over the growing list of demands from Independents.

Eight TDs from the two parties finally sat down for over 90 minutes inside the Leinster House complex last night to discuss how a minority government might work.

Both sides agreed to a total media blackout on how the talks were developing but the Irish Independent understands that acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny is keen for "a signed contract of sorts" that will outline the exact relationship between the two parties.

While Fianna Fáil continues to maintain that Micheál Martin could still win Thursday's vote for Taoiseach, Mr Kenny is in pole position.

However, ahead of more meetings with Independent TDs, there is growing concern within Fine Gael that the demands from non-party TDs are not affordable.

One source pointed out that after the Lansdowne Road deal and capital-expenditure programme are accounted for, there will only be in the region of €0.5bn for tax cuts and spending hikes next year.

A substantial portion of this is likely to go to the Department of Health and on helping to alleviate the housing crisis, leaving very little for 'pet projects'.

"In reality, the next two years are going to be very challenging and nobody has said that yet," said a source.

Such is the concern within Fine Gael about the Independents' demands that they are considering fresh approaches to the Green Party, Social Democrats and the Labour Party about a coalition government.

The Irish Independent understands that the Green Party is open to such a proposal but only if at least one of the other two left-wing parties signs up.

"The Green Party would want a proper rainbow, so it would need more parties of the Left to get involved," said a source.

In a blog, Independent TD Denis Naughten said the talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were "very much a last chance" to form a government.

"We also need to see the compromise between the two parties on Irish Water and water charges; on the phasing out of the USC; an agreement on the actual 'fiscal space' available for the next five budgets and the breakdown between spending on public services and taxation," he wrote.

And on RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' last night, former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the end of the month should be a deadline for forming a new government.

"I think it's time to get on with it now and wrap it up.

"My own view is that the end of the month should be the deadline, it gives you three working weeks. You have to set a deadline somewhere," he said.

Irish Independent

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