Friday 15 December 2017

Kenny and Martin to intervene as FG/FF talks stall over water

Micheál Martin. Photo: Arthur Carron
Micheál Martin. Photo: Arthur Carron

Cormac McQuinn, Niall O'Connor and Barry Lennon

Talks aimed at forming a government have stalled unexpectedly after Fianna Fáil refused to budge on its demand to suspend water charges.

Acting Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin were last night drafted in to salvage the negotiations after their teams had a series of disagreements.

The two parties had opposing views on four key issues, including rural funding, rent supplement and reversing cuts to career guidance in schools.

However, the parties remain furthest apart on the deeply divisive issue of water charges.

Last night, senior Fianna Fáil sources warned the talks could collapse unless Fine Gael agrees to suspend charges for all households.

Fine Gael's proposals, which would see 600,000 households escape water bills, "do not go far enough", according to one senior Fianna Fáil figure.

But a senior Fine Gael source insisted the party's proposals are "as far as we can go".

Mr Kenny and Mr Martin were briefed by their respective teams before holding a "cordial chat" on the telephone.

But following the breakdown of the talks, there was a marked change in the mood emanating from figures within both camps.

"This is not at a crisis stage, but it is at its most difficult point," said one Fianna Fáil source.

The breakdown in talks came just hours after 39 TDs tabled a Dáil motion calling for the suspension of charges.

But in a further sign of the difficulties encountered at the negotiations, both parties admitted that differences remain on issues other than water charges.

In relation to housing, the negotiators disagreed on rent supplement, which Fianna Fáil wants to increase.

However, the outgoing Government has previously warned such a move would be seized on by landlords, who would simply increase rent.

The issues of homelessness and education also led to friction during yesterday's talks.

Fianna Fáil demanded cuts to guidance counselling in secondary schools be reversed.

"We think it should be reinstated," a source said, adding: "it's still not resolved".

Fianna Fáil is said to want "more specifics" on plans to help disadvantaged rural areas.

However, the disagreement over water is still perhaps the biggest gulf between the parties.

Speaking after the talks adjourned at Trinity College, Fianna Fáil negotiator Jim O'Callaghan said there were a number of issues "in respect of which we can't reach agreement".

He added that he does not view the difficulties as being insurmountable.

"If there's compromise on both sides they can be resolved but we have reached a stage where we've been talking for a while and there's a number of matters that haven't been resolved ... and we need further instructions from our respective leaders."

Acting Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said he believed agreement can be still be reached over the weekend.

"There are difficult issues for both parties and that is why we believe now it is appropriate at this stage that we get instruction and guidance from our party leaders on these matters."

It had been hoped that Fine Gael could conclude its talks with Fianna Fáil about forming a minority government as early as today, before making renewed contact with Independent TDs.

However, the adjournment in the talks between the two parties means this is now highly unlikely.

Irish Independent

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