Greens seek talks consensus

 

Green Party leader John Gormley tonight urged all parties to put cynicism and doubt aside and reach a national consensus on spending cutbacks.

The Minister for Environment confirmed he had written to the opposition parties to try to reach common ground on a four-year budgetary plan, claiming it was of vital national interest.

Mr Gormley appealed for a political leap of faith, adding that if action is not taken in the “hour of crisis”, then the country will have been let down.

“We are working either in our party’s interest or we are working in the national interest,” the Green Party leader said during an interview broadcast on RTÉ television.

Opposition parties have expressed scepticism over predictions by Green Ministers that all-party talks on the economy would be taking place shortly.

Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan said last night he was “confident” parties from both sides would meet this week to try to agree a four-year budget strategy.

“No one has said no and I think yes, understandably, other parties have been cautious about it; but I believe they will each come in and see the sense in this in the national interest,” he said.

But Labour Party TD for Wexford Brendan Howlin said the electorate could not be excluded from any agreement on a four-year strategy for reducing the budget deficit.

“If there is a need for political certainty to carry a rolling programme of cuts, then the only certainty that can guarantee this is for the people to be consulted and a mandate for a five-year term to be given,” he told RTÉ’s The Week In Politics show.

Mr Gormley said he expected to have discussions between all party leaders shortly. He dismissed an early election, claiming it would lead to adversarial politics where the opposition would attempt to destabilise the
Government.

Following the Taoiseach’s decision that Opposition parties should be briefed on the economic situation, Joan Burton of Labour and Arthur Morgan of Sinn Féin have held preliminary discussions with the Department of Finance and a Fine Gael delegation led by Michael Noonan is to attend a meeting on Wednesday.

This comes against a backdrop of extensive dialogue between Irish and European officials, who have adopted a hard line in relation to the Government’s projections as they scrutinise its proposals in minute detail. The Government is being urged to substantiate the calculations behind its projections, and this may complicate efforts to achieve a national consensus.

Commenting on suggestions that the European Commission would subject the four-year plan to unprecedented scrutiny, a Fine Gael spokesman said: “It has been our understanding that any four-year plan will be submitted to the EU.”

The Labour spokesman said: “We have committed to meeting the 3 per cent target by 2014; how we achieve that target is a matter for national government.”

He added: “Eamon Gilmore is happy to talk to anyone about the economic situation but if this is an effort by the Greens to conjure up some sort of a national government to keep themselves and Fianna Fáil in power, we won’t be involved in that.”

Government sources said that, although Taoiseach Brian Cowen does support the effort to reach agreement with the Opposition, “there is no point in talking about consensus until they have looked at the books”.

Mr Gormley insisted that the Taoiseach is “on board” for the consensus approach. “I am very confident that, by the end of next week, we will have people in a room,” the Minister said.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said: “A forum between the parties may be of value if we can have a common analysis of what the problems are in the first place. But before we set up another talking-shop we have to determine that we agree on what the problem is.”

Speaking this lunchtime, Minister for Science Conor Lenihan said a shared approach to coping with the recession was the best way forward.

"If we want to emerge quickly out of recession and quickly into econmic recovery then a shared all-party approach would be better and more desirable," he said.

"It's hugely important that we put aside our political differences and try to reach a consensus because the public are looking for leadership not just from the Government but from the entire political system," Mr Lenihan added.