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Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil find neutral ground to sit down and chat about extending their deal

Confidence and Supply agreement talks began today between the two parties.
Oct 25th 2018, 5:00 PM 11,883 77

Updated Oct 25th 2018, 6:15 PM

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TEAMS FROM FINE Gael and Fianna Fáil sat down together for chats in a small room based between Leinster House and Government Buildings this afternoon.

What was discussed?

The confidence and supply agreement between the two parties. 

For the everyday punter concerned with some of life’s real problems like housing, rent, homelessness, school closures and hospital waiting lists, these words might not mean much – but essentially, it is the deal Fianna Fáil signed up to facilitate Fine Gael setting up a minority government.

It’s been a long road to get these discussions off the ground – in the run up to these negotiations, there were difficulties surrounding the negotiation about where the negotiations would take place. 

Last time around, after the 2016 election, the talks took place on neutral ground — at Trinity College. There, reporters huddled outside the closed doors for hours upon hours – 70 days of spring in all – waiting for white smoke. 

Sources within both parties said there were disagreements about where the teams should sit down today. The Merrion Hotel was suggested. Just a stone’s throw away from Government Buildings and Leinster House, but maybe a little too fancy for the self-designated parties of the people. 

The idea of Government Buildings was floated by Fine Gael, but Fianna Fáil sources said it was believed it would look too much like a cosy consensus. (That’s a phrase we’re getting very used to during these #Aras 18 debate days). 

The final location agreed appears to be a halfway house between Leinster House and Government Buildings (a bridge connects the two – so plenty of puns available to political broadcasters about building bridges and the like). 

The old deal states that Fianna Fáil would facilitate three Budgets – the third of which was agreed in October. 

It wasn’t just the where. It was also the when. 

Over the summer, there was much back and forth about what date talks would begin. Leo Varadkar wanted them to start before the Budget, while Micheál Martin wanted to wait until after. 

Drama.

There were letters sent to one another, which were then thrown up on Twitter and sent on to journalists. People marched up hills about the deadline for talks only to march back down.

Finally, there was an agreement to talk, but as if anyone really cared, the narrative turned to how long the talks would last. Also, would this be a two-year renewal (which Fine Gael are pushing for) or a review of the agreement (which Fianna Fáil is anxious for).

Simon Coveney, Paschal Donohoe, Martin Heydon and Regina Doherty are representing Fine Gael.

While the Fianna Fáil team will is made up of Dara Calleary, Michael McGrath, Charlie McConalouge and Lisa Chambers.

While Varadkar said he wanted them to be done and dusted by Halloween, Fianna Fáil have said there isn’t a hope of that happening. Another 70 days? 

These talks have been described as a “starting point” to scope out how the talks will proceed, so no big announcements were expected today. 

One source predicted the talks would be “business-like and civil”. And reports since the meeting broke seem to live up to such remarks.

Identical statements issued by the two parties described the meeting as a “good constructive first meeting” with both parties agreeing a schedule for next week.

Both parties will exchange papers next Tuesday and these will be reviewed. Following that, a full plenary meeting will be held next Thursday.

There was a little twist today. Fine Gael had called a press briefing for 5pm today to tell journalists the outcome of the day’s talks. That event was then cancelled. Sources state that it was discussed at the meeting, and everyone agreed joint statements would suffice today.

Off to a good start, maybe? Seventy days from now is 3 January. Just saying.

ePQ

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Christina Finn

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