Wednesday 22 November 2017

Coalition talks continue

Talks between Fine Gael and Labour on forming a coalition government will continue ahead of a weekend deadline.

Leaders Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore met again yesteday morning before negoiating teams settled into a second full day of discussions.

The parties were briefed by government officials on the state of the economy, with both sides claiming the information confirmed the depth of the crisis facing the country.

Under pressure from Europe, the two sides have set the end of the week as a deadline to secure a stable pact and programme for government.

Both sides accept the weekend target for a deal.

The negotiations at Government Buildings are complex, with the parties at odds over the length of time it will take to turn around the budget deficit, tax, public sector cuts, water charges and how to tackle bondholder responsibility for banking debts.

Labour is also under pressure from the Unite trade union which has called on the party to back away from joining with the centre-right Fine Gael and form a strong left-leaning opposition.

The Fine Gael team is led by highly-regarded finance spokesman Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan, who masterminded the historic election success, and combative front-bencher Alan Shatter.

Labour's negotiators include deputy leader and finance spokeswoman Joan Burton, former leader Pat Rabbitte, constitutional expert Brendan Howlin and policy director Colm O'Reardon.

A quick deal is needed as Ireland faces a series of challenging hurdles linked to its multibillion-euro bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and Europe, and the banking crisis.

The parties are also aiming to put a deal on paper before the Dail sits again on March 9.

It will have to be signed off by Labour's special delegate council at the weekend before the two sides can agree. That meeting, which involves hundreds of members from party branches only, is pencilled in for Sunday.

Mr Kenny is due to travel to Helsinki tomorrow for a meeting of the European People's Party, with which Fine Gael is affiliated.

The contacts are intended to open the door for a charm offensive and garner support to renegotiate the 85 billion euro loans.

Mr Gilmore will meet left-leaning European colleagues separately tomorrow.

Thrashing out a coalition with like-minded independents is another option for Fine Gael.

But it could prove difficult given that a sizeable number of left-leaning TDs were elected at the weekend, while former stockbroker and Senator Shane Ross is also demanding a referendum on the IMF/EU loans.

Mr Kenny has vowed to force Europe's hand on renegotiation of the deal, but has made no mention of a referendum.

Press Association

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