Thursday 14 December 2017

FG and Labour pact will be renegotiated, says Howlin

Fiach Kelly and Eimear Ni Bhraonain

THE Coalition deal between Labour and Fine Gael will be renegotiated, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has confirmed.

Mr Howlin was responding to a report in yesterday's Irish Independent revealing Labour will push for changes to the Programme for Government.

This deal was agreed with Fine Gael after last year's general election. It comes as the fallout from bitter Budget negotiations continues, with Labour under fire for cutting welfare payments and breaking promises to protect child benefit.

However the party failed to get tax increases for higher earners during the tense pre-Budget horse trading.

"We negotiated the Programme for Government in the most difficult of times," Mr Howlin said. "We implemented a huge chunk of it already ahead of schedule so I suppose at some stage before this term runs out, we will be required to renegotiate it. When exactly that should happen hasn't been discussed."

Sources said any moves on renegotiation will not happen until the autumn at the earliest, after Ireland completes its presidency of the EU.

The key pledge in the original document – which married Fine Gael's demand not to increase income taxes and Labour's commitment to maintain welfare rates – has already caused major friction between the parties.

Labour sources say any new deal must see welfare rates maintained.

Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said he expected a renegotiation once the country nears the exit of the bailout.

"I suppose it generally happens half-way through the lifetime of a Government," he said.

However, he said the bailout programme would continue until the end of next year.

"As it comes towards the end of that, you can certainly see the two parties beginning to think about how the Programme for Government might be finessed in the light of experience since it was negotiated," he said.

But while some in Fine Gael agree renegotiation will happen, others insist the original agreement be implemented. They argue that public sector, semi-state and social welfare reforms must be accelerated.

Irish Independent

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