FG, Labour talks continue


Negotiators appointed by Fine Gael and Labour continue to meet at Government Buildings this evening to discuss the possible basis of a joint programme for government..

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore met earlier today but both declined to discuss the nature of the talks, insisting they would be briefed later by their respective negotiators.

The party leaders' meeting this morning took place in the ministerial corridor at Leinster House, which was made available by Taoiseach Brian Cowen. The two men also met for more than an hour last night to discuss the broad shape of an agreement.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny declined to comment on the talks this afternoon other than to say the meeting had gone "very well".

Speaking on the plinth at Leinster House where he was pictured with the new Labour parliamentary party, Eamon Gilmore also declined to comment in detail on the talks.

"Discussions have started and I think we have to wait and see what emerges."

He added he would receive a report from Brendan Howlin, leader of the Labour delegation, later.

Mr Gilmore said he was leading a "very disciplined" team and that many of those elected had worked together in the outgoing Dáil.

Questioned on differences between Labour and Fine Gael on issues such as managing the exchequer deficit, Mr Gilmore said: "I think everybody has a fair idea where the points of difference are in terms of policy and that's something the negotiators have to grapple with."

The parties’ negotiating teams will begin substantive talks on a programme for government later today.

The Fine Gael team is made up of Michael Noonan, Phil Hogan and Alan Shatter while the Labour team is Joan Burton, Brendan Howlin and Pat Rabbitte and Colm O’Reardon.

Mr Howlin said last night that Labour’s talks with Fine Gael would be “profound and stark”.

Speaking to reporters as he entered Leinster House this afternoon, Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd said he was not authorised to discuss the negotiations but that he hoped to see the party in government by this time next week.

Also speaking today, Independent Dublin North Central TD Finian McGrath said a group of Independents would meet at 5pm to discuss the possibility of forming a technical group, and he said he believed it was essential to have strong voices in the Dáil.

Mr McGrath, who is beginning his third term in the Dáil, said he expected to meet a number of fellow Independents Maureen O’Sullivan, Catherine Murphy, Mick Wallace, Thomas Pringle, John Halligan and Shane Ross. He said that other Independents were likely to attend.

The United Left Alliance, under which banner five TDs were elected at the weekend, said it was open to forming a technical group with any of the other Independents to secure speaking rights.

Elsewhere, the count in the Laois-Offaly constituency was completed early this morning. Following the elimination of Labour candidate John Whelan on the 13th count, Fianna Fáil's Barry Cowen, brother of the the outgoing Taoiseach, and Seán Fleming were elected, along with Fine Gael's Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, joining party colleague Charlie Flanagan, and Sinn Féin's Brian Stanley.

A full recount will begin in Galway West later following a request from Independent candidate Catherine Connolly. The 13th count in the constituency ended at about 6am.

Preparations have also begun for a full delegate conference of the Labour Party to convene this weekend to discuss any agreement that might emerge from this week's coalition talks.

Under the party constitution, the leadership must get the approval of a delegate conference representing the party organisation before it can enter a coalition government.

While the positions of the two parties are similar in a number of policy areas, there are major differences between them over key issues such as the reduction of public sector debt; the ratio between tax and cuts; water charges; property tax; indirect taxes and public sector reform.

Labour’s position is that the target of reducing public debt to 3 per cent of national income should be extended until 2016. It has also argued that public spending should be reduced by €7 billion and not by €9 billion between 2011 and 2014. It has also argued that there should be a 50:50 ratio between expenditure cuts and new taxes.

Fine Gael has set a tighter target for reducing the national debt to 3 per cent of gross domestic product by 2014 and wants a ratio of spending cuts to taxation of more than two to one.

Neither party has identified any of those positions as non-negotiable and TDs from both parties suggested privately yesterday that it was inevitable that both parties would find a compromise on these issues.