Kenny and Martin hold further talks amid Irish Water impasse

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil struggling to reach agreement on key issues

 Fianna Fail TD’s (L to R) Jim O’ Callaghan, Barry Cowen, Michael McGrath, Charlie McConalogue leave talks between Fianna Fail and  Fine Gael at Trinity College, Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Fianna Fail TD’s (L to R) Jim O’ Callaghan, Barry Cowen, Michael McGrath, Charlie McConalogue leave talks between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael at Trinity College, Dublin on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are expected to resume on Monday, following a meeting on Saturday between party leaders Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin.

The pair met for a half hour in Government Buildings on Saturday morning, and both Mr Martin and Mr Kenny then reverted to members of their negotiating teams.

It is expected Mr Kenny and Mr Martin will continue to be in contact throughout the weekend, with one source saying the “leaders have to talk”.

The suspension of water charges continues to be the main stumbling block to a deal that would allow Fianna Fáil facilitate the formation of a Fine Gael led minority government.

It is understood officials from both parties continued informal talks on Saturday.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald met Mr Kenny following the acting Taoiseach’s meeting with Mr Martin.

Speaking as he left Government Buildings, Mr Noonan said he expected the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael negotiating teams to resume their talks on Monday.

“It’ll probably go to Monday,” Mr Noonan said. “There are various policy options being explored, which is normal in any negotiations.

“Over the last three or four days, we certainly agreed on lots of items but I wouldn’t be in a position to predict the outcome.”

Ms Fitzgerald also said it is “likely” that talks will resume on Monday.

“There are obviously discussions between them and we finished our talks yesterday on the basis that both teams could come back for further instructions and that continues to be the case today.”

A Fianna Fáil spokesman said: “There’s further engagement over the weekend and meetings expected on Monday.”

Review process

One suggestion under consideration is that the future of water charges could be referred to a commission or review process.

Fianna Fáil sources said that while a commission could be established, charges must still be stopped for the duration of the Dáil term.

Fine Gael sources said there must be no suspension while a commission carried out its work.

While neither side wants to fight an election on the issue of Irish Water, there is an acknowledgement at senior levels that a solution needs to be found to the current political impasse that will allow both save face.

Fianna Fáil has sought to tie the water issue to the length of time the party is prepared to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government.

Fine Gael wants Fianna Fáil to sign up to a five-year arrangement, while Micheál Martin wants it reviewed in the summer of 2018.

Fianna Fáil this week said it would be willing to agree to a three-year arrangement – the length of time requested by Independent TDs whose support Mr Kenny needs – if Fine Gael agreed to suspend water charges for the duration of the Dáil.

Other differences are said to exist on childcare. Both parties want to reduce the cost by €2,000 but Fianna Fáil favours tax credits and Fine Gael wants subsidies.

Housing differences were said to centre on measures for short-term difficulties, such as rent supplement. Banking issues, such as standard variable rates and mortgage interest relief, also remain unresolved.