FF and FG to meet with Independents in efforts to form government

Donohoe: Department of Social Protection’s ceiling on spending for 2020 will be reached in June

Independent TD Marian Harkin: she and  Independents  Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara are due to meet with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

Independent TD Marian Harkin: she and Independents Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara are due to meet with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael

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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are to hold a series of meetings with Independent TDs on Monday as part of continuing efforts to form a government.

The two parties, who have a combined strength of 72 in the Dáil, are eight TDs short of a majority, and are hoping to strike a deal with a third party and Independents in order to form a coalition.

Independent TDs Marian Harkin, Michael Fitzmaurice and Michael McNamara are due to meet Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on Monday. Ms Harkin said it would be the first such meeting as part of the talks, and that the Independents would consider the joint framework document published by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, and would also have their own position papers.

The Regional Technical Group is also due to take part in separate meetings. The convenor is Denis Naughten, and the group comprises eight other TDs: Seán Canney, Michael Lowry, Peadar Tóibín of Aontú, Verona Murphy, Noel Grealish, Peter Fitzpatrick, Dr Cathal Berry and Matt Shanahan.

The Green Party will meet remotely to finalise a series of questions in response to the joint framework document.

In the document Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil say there will be no increases in income tax or USC, no cuts to core welfare rates – understood to be those separate to payments established to deal with the effects of Covid-19 – and that capital spending will be a priority and will be funded through borrowing if necessary.

It also commits to significant State investment in health and housing among other sectors.

Fianna Fáil is also expected to respond on Monday to questions posed by the Social Democrats after they asked about the cost of the plans in the document and about the level of borrowing that would be needed.

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Protection is expected to reach its spending limit by June, according to parliamentary correspondence sent to Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath.

The Minister for Public Expenditure, Paschal Donohoe, said that revised spending estimates for the departments in 2020 were not voted on before the dissolution of the Dáil earlier this year.

In the absence of such a vote there is a ceiling on spending in 2020 of 80 per cent of the net amount appropriated in 2019. Mr Donohoe said the ceiling on spending would now be reached in June in the Department of Social Protection, and September in the Department of Health because of exceptional coronavirus-related costs.

“In the normal course of events new estimates for 2020 would be presented to the Dáil following government formation,” Mr Donohoe wrote, noting that the situation is being kept under close review.

Government sources on Sunday night acknowledged that the authorised spending limits would be reached as laid out in the correspondence. However, sources said they believed there was sufficient time for the issue to be addressed.

Unemployment payment

Separately, the Government is expecting a further increase in the number of people claiming the special Covid-19 unemployment payment when new figures are announced on Monday. However, officials believe that the figures are reaching a plateau.

Last week it was confirmed there were 533,000 people receiving the Government’s special Covid-19 unemployment payment of €350 a week.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said at the time that about 54,000 people would receive the payment for the first time last week.Jennifer Bray and Martin Wall