Micheal Martin tells Enda Kenny: Axe water bills or face a second election
The deadlock over water charges between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is pushing the country towards a second election.
Fianna Fáil is set to dig its heels in and demand the suspension of water bills when Enda Kenny contacts the party to seek Micheál Martin's consent for a minority government.
Senior sources in Fianna Fáil say the single biggest obstacle to a deal is the parties' stances on water charges.
A Fine Gael document circulated to Independents during Thursday's roundtable meeting mentions "water management" as an issue - but does not put charges on the table.
Fine Gael sources directly involved in the negotiations told the Irish Independent if Fianna Fáil demands the abolition of charges "then we're heading into another election".
"Water charges are staying and Irish Water is staying. That is not up for negotiation," said one party source.
"The view in the parliamentary party is so robust on this from all sides and the party leadership know that. Middle Ireland is with us on this one."
The majority of Independent TDs who met with Fine Gael this week have not listed water charges on the agenda of items they want urgently addressed.
But Mr Martin assured his TDs in recent days that the party will not budge on its pledge to abolish Irish Water and suspend charges for at least five years.
And senior figures in Fianna Fáil have insisted that they will not support a Fine Gael minority government unless a deal is struck on water.
"We can hardly be expected to back such an arrangement if water charges are kept in their current form - the Independents need to realise that," said one.
There is a growing optimism within Fine Gael that they can convince some of the Independents to vote for Mr Kenny as Taoiseach when the Dáil next sits on April 6.
If that support is promised in advance then Fine Gael is likely to open a dialogue with Mr Martin - but sources on both sides say an agreement on water charges seems impossible.
At an event in Dublin yesterday, Mr Kenny said the Rising of 1916 shows "the only way forward as a nation is to sit down together, work hard, and build a better future".
Fine Gael is willing to compromise on how charges are applied, particularly to pensioners and vulnerable groups - but it will not back away from the concept of charges.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney found himself in hot water when he suggested there was room to talk about charges in the days after the election.
"When the issue was brought up accidentally by Coveney and others, people in the party were fuming that there was any suggestion the policy would change. It won't.
"It's not a massive issue on the doorstep when compared with housing," insisted a Fine Gael source. Official talks between the parties and Independents have been suspended for the Easter weekend but informal contacts are continuing.
Seventeen TDs are due back at Government Buildings to meet Fine Gael on Tuesday. The Independent Alliance and Green Party have also agreed to meet Fianna Fáil on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Westmeath TD Kevin 'Boxer' Moran has told how he was described as a "brave man" by Fine Gael officials - after challenging Mr Kenny on whether his position is under threat.
"I asked him would he be pushed aside and I also asked him would there be a heave against?" he said.
"And if there was, would there be a chance Fine Gael would do a deal with Fianna Fáil and Independents be left our long days in discussions."