Senior FG politicians in favour of Labour deal


COALITION OPTIONS:A COALITION deal with the Labour Party is the favoured option of senior Fine Gael politicians. However, some backbench TDs believe the party would be better to try and go it alone with the support of Independents.

Fine Gael TDs declined to make any on-the-record comments yesterday as the talks began between party leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

While leading party figures like Leo Varadkar and Brian Hayes have warned that the mandate arising from the party’s 76 or so seats will have to be reflected in the programme for government, one senior party figure was forecasting last night that a deal would be concluded by the end of the week.

“There certainly are some differences between the parties but, when you strip away the election rhetoric, there is a lot of common ground and I don’t see any great problem as long as the same commitment is there on the other side.”

He added that the discipline imposed by the EU-IMF deal and the fact that any changes to it would have to be approved at European level would minimise the prospect of conflict between Fine Gael and Labour over its terms.

Fine Gael wants to adhere to the timeframe in the four-year plan for getting the public finances back on track, while Labour would like it to be extended for at least one more year.

“The bottom line is that we can’t change the timeframe without the approval of Europe, so Labour’s desire to postpone the correction in the public finances will run into a brick wall in Brussels. It is not just an issue for Fine Gael.”

A number of Fine Gael TDs emphasised the party’s desire to press ahead with the four-year plan to ensure that by the time of the next election, Ireland would no longer depend on the EU-IMF deal for its economic survival.

“As long as we are honest and open with the people I believe they will back the tough decisions that we will inevitably have to take, and if we have the mess cleaned up by the time of the next election we will have a real chance of a second term,” said one Fine Gael TD.

The broad view in the party is that issues such as child benefit, third-level fees and welfare payments will not be deal-breakers.

There is also an assumption that the number of cabinet seats will not be an issue. “We will offer four [ministries to Labour], they will look for six and we’ll settle on five,” said one Fine Gael source.

Not all Fine Gael TDs believe that a coalition with Labour is the best option.

“I think we should talk to the Independents and to Fianna Fáil to see on what basis they might support a Fine Gael minority government. Why hasn’t a call been put in to Micheál Martin as well as to Eamon Gilmore?” asked one TD.

The official party position is that during the election campaign, Fine Gael ruled out any arrangement with Fianna Fáil and the party has received its mandate on that basis.