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Under Pressure

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael finish talks for the evening, but no deal yet on Irish Water

Things are not as ‘hunk dory’ as some might believe, said Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen.

21/04/2016. General Election 2016-Government Forma Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Updated 7pm

TALKS BETWEEN FIANNA Fáil and Fine Gael have finished for the evening.

Irish Water was not discussed at this afternoon’s meeting, despite the issue being a sticking point between the two parties.

Speaking to, Fianna Fáil’s Barry Cowen said:

“There are still several items outstanding – issues surrounding childcare, education, housing, health.”

He said there are a number of items where the two parties have still not reached agreement – including Irish Water – which is back on the agenda tomorrow.

Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and if there is one thing not agreed, nothing will be agreed.
It’s not as hunky dory as people would have you believe, to be quite honest.

Cowen said progress has been made on some issues, stating that the team has gone through their entire document which contains their party’s principles.

There are about six items we have to go back over to see if we can reach agreement.

It’s now expected negotiations will continue into the weekend.

If there are six or seven outstanding issues tomorrow evening, then we will meet the following day. We understand our obligation and our responsibility, clearly, to try and provide a government for the Irish people.

He said he understood that the Irish people are frustrated with the protracted process of government formation.

I know people are frustrated it is taking so long, but we’d rather take a bit of time to get it right, rather than rush into something that will fall down.

21/04/2016. General Election 2016 - Government For Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

Backbenchers unhappy

Both parties held parliamentary party meetings earlier to discuss the future of Irish Water with their members.

It’s believed the deal on the table sees Irish Water becoming a state agency. It’s also planned to introduce a generous water usage allowance for householders – similar to the former Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s original plan – whereby customers will pay for the water they use above the limit.

However, Fianna Fáil campaigned on the promise that Irish Water would be abolished and water charges would be suspended for five years.

One Fine Gael minister has said there was a positive atmosphere around government-formation talks today. Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he was “reasonably optimistic” of an agreement.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald admitted it remains “challenging”.

Unhappy with any compromise

However, some backbench TDs on both sides are unhappy with the compromise – with some saying it will be a hard sell to members.

One FG source said this deal will essentially see another state quango being established – one that will rely on public-private partnership deals.

Speaking after the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting today, one TD said:

Water remains the central issue – both the charges and the structure of the utility.

He said the mood in the room during today’s meeting was one of “apprehension”.

Nobody wants to concede on continuing the charges or to disband the utility.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael’s Alan Farrell said the meeting was “very positive” and was merely an update, with no discussion of the negotiations taking place.

One FF TD said today’s parliamentary meeting went well, but that water charges and any amendments to policy were the main issue for the party. He said no draft plan from FG was presented to members at the meeting.

Despite reports that there was no room for maneuver on the issue, he believed the negotiating team had a mandate to continue discussions to reach a solution.

‘Sense of optimism’

Speaking on Morning Ireland today, acting jobs minister Richard Bruton said there was a “sense of a certain optimism” that a deal could be achieved on setting up a Fine Gael-led minority government, supported by Fianna Fáil.

Asked whether the deal would hinge on further allowances and wavers being provided to Irish Water customers, and how any revised process would work, Bruton said the negotiators would look at a fair system.

A national water system was essential for the country’s future, the minister said.

8/2/2016 General Election Campaigns Starts Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Leah Farrell Leah Farrell

He added that from the start of the new charging regime there had always been an emphasis on free allocations and “attempts to promote conservation,” pointing to payments like the conservation grant.

From the very start that has been a feature that the previous government as well as these negotiations have grappled with.

Bruton said those involved in the talks yesterday had swayed between “depression and optimism” as they attempted to find common ground.

‘Massive climb down for Fianna Fáil’

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said this deal is the “ultimate betrayal of Irish citizens” who voted to abolish water charges.

He said there will be a water charges regime, there will be a “Phil Hogan mark two scenario” with allowances back in. “There will still be domestic charges and domestic metering – this is a complete reneging of the commitment that Fianna Fáil made”.

It is a massive u-turn and massive climb down for the Fianna Fáil party.

If a deal is done on Irish Water between the two establishment parties – the spotlight will move to the independents.

Last week, independent TD Finian McGrath said the independents should get a minimum of five ministerial roles in government, however it is believed these could take the form of junior ministerial roles.

Fine Gael have continued talking to the independents while the negotiations have been ongoing.

Additional reporting Daragh Brophy

Read: Ancient cities have fallen in the same length of time the government has been talking

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