FG, Labour continue talks


Talks between the Fine Gael and Labour negotiating teams on the formation of a coalition government resumed this morning. 

Both parties indicated separately last night that a successful outcome to government negotiations cannot be taken for granted and other options besides the two-party coalition were open to them.

Party leaders Enda Kenny and Labour’s Eamon Gilmore met for about an hour this morning before negotiators resumed their talks. 

The Fine Gael team is led by its finance spokesman Michael Noonan and comprises Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter. The Labour team is headed by Brendan Howlin, along with deputy leader Joan Burton and Pat Rabbitte. Dr Colm O’Reardon, director of policy, is also part of Labour’s negotiating team. Fine Gael’s economic adviser Andrew McDowell is also a participant.

The parties are aiming to agree a deal before the Dáil returns on March 9th.

Meanwhile, the final election count ended this morning when Fine Gael councillor Seán Kyne took fifth and final seat in Galway West. Just 17 votes separated Mr Kyne from Independent councillor and former city mayor Catherine Connolly. Independent TD Noel Grealish was also declared elected this morning in the same constituency.

The result means the final make-up of the 31st Dáil will be: Fine Gael 76; Labour 37; Fianna Fáil 20; Sinn Féin 14; United Left Alliance 5 and Independents 14.

The formal talks process began after Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore met again earlier yesterday morning and agreed to begin discussions with a view to forming a government. Some 5½ hours of discussions took place before the meeting broke for tea at 6.40pm. They resumed at 8pm last night and both sides expressed optimism that the process could be concluded before the weekend.

Introducing his 37-strong parliamentary party on the plinth of Leinster House yesterday, Mr Gilmore said Labour would go into opposition if the negotiations did not succeed. He agreed that the gap between the parties over the size of the adjustment, and the timescale for reducing the national deficit to 3 per cent of national income, were among the major issues.

Sources from the two parties, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the key issues would be the €2 billion gap between Fine Gael and Labour on the necessary adjustment between now and 2014; the timescale for reducing the deficit; water charges; property tax and public sector reform. Fine Gael has argued for a reduction of 30,000 employees whereas Labour says it should be no more than 18,000.

A Fine Gael source confirmed the party had informally contacted other TDs but the focus for Fine Gael was this week’s negotiations.

Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East, said the party should explore all options before committing itself to Labour. “People voting for me and voting for my colleagues were coming from Fianna Fáil and PD backgrounds. They were voting against Labour and against higher taxes and going soft on cuts. We will be punished if we were to say we would not try to see if there were other viable alternatives.”

She said the party should speak to other like-minded individuals to explore the possibilities.