Main parties headed for showdown over confidence-and-supply agreement

Fine Gael eager to look forward, but Fianna Fáil insists on review, say sources

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: disagreed with the Taoiseach’s assessment that the uncertainty of not having a new agreement weakened the Government’s hand in Brexit negotiations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: disagreed with the Taoiseach’s assessment that the uncertainty of not having a new agreement weakened the Government’s hand in Brexit negotiations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Talks between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on renewing the confidence and supply agreement are heading for an early showdown this week that could determine if a new deal is possible.

A clear division has emerged between the parties on the scope of the negotiations, with Fianna Fáil insisting on a detailed line-by-line review of the 2016 agreement, while Fine Gael has argued the talks must quickly move on.

Both parties will exchange papers on Tuesday outlining their review of the three-year-old agreement underwriting the Government, which is due to expire by mid-December.

Negotiators will then study the documents before the first plenary session begins on Thursday.

“We would like to be looking forward to the future rather than looking back,” said a Fine Gael participant who spoke on the basis of not being named.

“They [Fianna Fáil] want to keep us in review mode until Christmas and that will lead to a clash on Thursday.

“Genuinely this week will tell us a lot about whether or not they are serious and if it is possible. We are not interested in going back. Everybody needs to look forward.”

‘Stalling tactics’

At respective party meetings last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin outlined their positions to TDs and Senators, with Mr Varadkar warning about “stalling tactics” and Mr Martin setting out a long review phase.

A Fianna Fáil member of the negotiating team, speaking on the basis of anonymity, said that from their perspective a lot of the focus will be on health and housing, as well as broadband, which was described as a “huge issue”.

We are not willing to wait around hoping for a dance if they are not interested in dancing

Indicating a longer timeframe, the Fianna Fáíl source said: “Micheál Martin’s offer in relation to Brexit to ensure no party would precipitate an election during the course of the negotiations set the context. From our perspective the talks will have their ups and downs but we should not have an election looming over us.”

But the Fine Gael source maintained that the party was not willing to wait until the New Year before negotiations moved on to future issues.

“We are not willing to wait around hoping for a dance if they are not interested in dancing,” said the source.

National Broadband Plan

However, discussions on broadband will certainly be delayed. Fine Gael acknowledged that this aspect of the talks cannot begin until Peter Smyth concludes his report on the status of the National Broadband Plan, which could take several weeks at least.

The Fine Gael document will be based largely on the letter the Taoiseach sent to Mr Martin in late August, detailing his assessment of how the 2016 agreement had been implemented. Mr Varadkar listed a large number of targets reached but acknowledged the Government was “struggling to make sustainable improvements to public healthcare”.

“And, while there is now some cause for optimism, the housing crisis persists with a shortage of new homes for first-time buyers and increased numbers of people living in emergency accommodation,” he accepted.

Mr Martin disagreed with the Taoiseach’s assessment that the uncertainty of not having a new agreement weakened the Government’s hand in Brexit negotiations.