Wednesday 24 January 2018

Coalition talks resume

Negotiating teams from Fine Gael and Labour were going head-to-head for a second full day to strike a deal on forming a new coalition Government.

Party leaders Enda Kenny and Labour's Eamon Gilmore met for around an hour before negotiators settled back into talks at 11.30am for hard bargaining on portfolios and policies.

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.

The negotiations at Government Buildings will be 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 Labour 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 on Friday 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 on Friday.

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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