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Regina Doherty calls for negotiations on new deal with FF, says election talk 'childish'

Budget talks start today – but the minister says Fine Gael wants parallel talks on confidence and supply.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty.
Image: RollingNews.ie

SOCIAL PROTECTION MINISTER Regina Doherty has reiterated Fine Gael’s call on Fianna Fáil to begin talks on a new confidence and supply agreement – saying there’s no reason the discussions can’t take place at the same time as Budget negotiations. 

Talks between the two parties on next month’s Budget package commence today. 

Fianna Fáil said once again yesterday that the Budget needed to be sorted before any talks on a new deal to keep the Fine Gael-led minority government in power could be considered. 

The Taoiseach has made a number of calls recently for renewed talks to take place before the Budget – citing stability and Brexit as the primary reasons to bring them forward. 

Speaking to Morning Ireland today, Doherty said her party was not minded to accept Fianna Fáil’s latest response to the talks proposal and that negotiations on the two issues could happen in parallel. 

“We will have to try and persuade them,” she said. 

“I don’t see the harm in asking Fianna Fáil to sit down and review what has been a good contract for the last number of years with a view to continuing that contract in what has been an uncertain time for the island of Ireland.”

She said there was an “underlying tone” in Fianna Fáil’s responses on the issue – “that if they don’t get what they want in the Budget then they will cause an election”. 

Politicians, she said, needed to stop with the accusations of “you want an election and I don’t want one – like, that’s childish”. 

She insisted talks on a new deal needed to take place so that the government has stability and the parliament has longevity. 

Micheál Martin’s party, she said, deserved credit for its role in providing stability over the last three years. 

She said that Budget talks last year had been “very seamless” and that the Fianna Fáil team who helmed those discussions were “utter professionals”. 

Nobody wanted an election and Fine Gael would try again to kickstart confidence and supply talks, she added. 

Dear Micheál… 

It emerged yesterday morning that Leo Varadkar had sent a letter to Martin on Friday last seeking talks on a new deal, and setting out the government’s achievements since 2016. Fine Gael later published the letter in full

Fianna Fáil released its own letter yesterday afternoon, in which Martin rejected the Taoiseach’s claim that the government could not function without an extension of the confidence and supply agreement. 

Speaking yesterday Fianna Fáil TD Timmy Dooley described the Taoiseach’s letter as a “distraction”, adding: 

Let’s get some fiscal security in place here, let’s agree the important issues and the funding of the State for the next 12 months and when that fiscal confidence is in place then let’s deal with the political issues about whether we’re going to have an election or when it’s going to take place or what the next set of priorities will be.

The deal between the Dáil’s two largest parties, signed after prolonged talks between the parties in the wake of the 2016 general election, essentially sets the parameters for Fianna Fáil to prop up the current minority government. 

It covered three Budgets before a mooted renegotiation – and the one set to be delivered by Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in a month’s time represents the last in that series.

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath was asked on Morning Ireland today whether his party was prepared for a general election.

“As a political party we’re always ready we never fear an election but we’re not looking for one and we don’t believe that one is necessary,” McGrath said.

You know I think that the Taoiseach’s move in writing to Micheál Martin already knowing what his position was both privately and publicly and then publishing the letter on the eve of negotiations on the third Budget just doesn’t strike me as a genuine attempt to get talks under way in relation to a review of the agreement. There’s something else to it – I’m not quite sure what it is.

McGrath said there would be a review of the deal and that his party had committed to facilitating the enactment of the Budget “which essentially takes us to Christmas”.

Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan said yesterday that Varadkar wanted a pre-Christmas election, something the Taoiseach’s spokesperson rejected outright last night.

That suggestion does not tally with the letter released by the Taoiseach yesterday, said the spokesperson, who added that Varadkar is “serious about continuing to govern the country”.

The spokesperson said O’Callaghan is entitled to that opinion, be said it is wrong.

“The Taoiseach does not want a pre-Christmas election. Absolutely not.”

Speaking to reporters on his way into the first tranche of Budget negotiations with Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, McGrath said it is “bizarre” for the Taoiseach to seek “to force the issue” now as both parties commence Budget negotiations.

He said Fianna Fáil the budget will influence whatever review of the confidence and supply takes place afterwards. In terms of their Budget priorities, McGrath said his party will be looking for measures around an affordable housing scheme, a fair taxation package as well as a social welfare package in the October Budget.

Responding to Doherty’s comments that election talk is “childish”, McGrath said he was not going to enter a “tit-for-tat” argument. He said his party would continue to hold discussions in a professional and business-like manner. 

With reporting by Christina Finn

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