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Taoiseach rules out national government

Taoiseach Brian Cowen today ruled out a national government as the Green Party pleaded for Opposition support on four years of swingeing cuts.

Environment Minister John Gormley appealed for consensus on €4bn budget savings for next year and claimed the Taoiseach supported his call.

Mr Cowen said he would welcome ideas from the Opposition but rejected suggestions of a ruling cross-party coalition.

"As regards this question of a national Government, I don't see it relevant to our present situation," Mr Cowen said.

"We have a job to do in the coming weeks, we need to get on with that job and the last thing we need to be doing is, in my opinion, creating any further degree of political uncertainty about that.

"We have a process in place, let's get on with doing work, and if we can work together on it so be it. Let's see if that's possible."

The Taoiseach and Mr Gormley discussed the Green leader`s plans for an all-party forum and his plans to write to Opposition leaders to ask them to join negotiations.

The proposed talks would centre on the four-year budget strategy, to be published in November, mapping out a plan to reduce the country`s deficit to just 3pc by 2014.

Mr Gormley said the Taoiseach supported the idea.

"I think it`s absolutely essential that we put party political differences aside and that we can try and reach that form of consensus," the minister told RTE Radio.

"I think he (the Taoiseach) understands the necessity for some form of consensus."

Mr Gormley said his appeal for consensus stopped short of national government at this stage.

The Government confirmed earlier this week that it will open the finance books to the Opposition.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore insisted his party was always willing to enter negotiations on any subject in the national interest.

But he warned: "All of this talk about national consensus and national government and so on, really what that`s about is keeping Fianna Fail in government.

"Fianna Fail have got to be put out of government.

"I`ll attend a meeting with anybody but let`s be clear about this - what`s going on here, this talk about national consensus, national government, it`s coming very late in the day.

"The economic crisis has been going on for well over two years," he told the station.

Joan Burton, the party's finance spokeswoman, said: "Many voters will view the call from the Green Party as a desperate attempt to remind the public of its existence and a gesture that has more to do with trying to keep Fianna Fail in power and to rescue Fianna Fail and Green seats than rescuing the country."

She added: "What the Green Party seems to be seeking is some sort of a mandate from the opposition for more of the same policies that have led this country to disaster, when what the people want is real change."

Fine Gael insisted its position has not changed and that a re-run of the 1987 Tallaght Strategy - where the party supported fiscal policies of a minority Fianna Fail government - was out of the question.

Aengus O Snodaigh, Sinn Fein social protection spokesman, dismissed the appeal out of hand.

"The Green Party's John Gormley and Eamonn Ryan are looking for a group hug with the other political parties in order to ease their consciences as they prop up Fianna Fail and their disastrous economic policies," Mr O Snodaigh said.

PA Media