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Talks down to the wire as teams push to agree programme for government this weekend

Negotiators from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party are set to continue their talks into the weekend.

Image: RollingNews.ie

Updated Jun 13th 2020, 11:44 AM

GOVERNMENT FORMATION TALKS continued late into the evening for the second day in row last night as negotiating teams work towards agreeing a programme for government this weekend. 

While progress was made this week on one of the key sticking points – agriculture and the the 7% target in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – other issues remain, such as an economic plan, housing and pensions.

Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar said yesterday there is a strong possibility that a programme for government could be agreed in the next couple of days so that a government would be in place by the end of June.

Last night’s talks did not finish until around 1am, and today’s discussions are also expected to run late, with plenary meetings beginning this afternoon as attempts to finalise a programme for government continue.

Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson Michael McGrath told RTÉ that there is a “sense of urgency” to ensure a new government can be in place by the last weekend in June.

The Green Party’s deputy leader Catherine Martin also told RTÉ that she believed an agreement would be reached “some time this weekend”.

“It’s hard to judge, I can’t give an exact hour or day, but I think it will be this weekend,” she said.

“It will all hinge on today, but I do feel we’re coming towards the end of the process this weekend.”

Depending who is consulted, some state the deal could be done tomorrow, others state it could drag into next week.

Negotiators from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and the Green Party are set to continue their talks into the weekend.

Party leaders are also due to meet this afternoon to iron out any remaining stumbling blocks in getting a deal over the line.

One of the sticking points is when and how the country pays down the billions of Euro it has borrowed to deal with the pandemic. There is a push against Fine Gael wanting to balance the books too soon.

Varadkar said once economic growth returns “we will get the deficit and the debt down. That’s the best way to avoid austerity. It’s to start to bring your debt down when you can afford to do so”.

He added: “The talks are progressing, not much could be done today because Fine Gael ministers were tied up with meetings but they are heading back for more meetings this evening.

“It seems that everyday, one or two new papers are signed off and I think there is a strong possibility we will have a programme for government in the next couple of days.

“I know it is taking a long time but I am of the view, and so would a lot of others, that it is better to nail down some of the issues now rather than have them become points of conflict during a five-year government term.

“The prospect is there for a government to take office on the last week of June or first week of July.

“It could be in time to renew the Offences Against The State Act, as that needs to be done in the Dail and the Seanad.”

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On the other issue of rural Ireland and concerns that any climate and emissions deal will negatively impact farmers, the Taoiseach said his party is “very keen to have actions in place that protects rural Ireland and farmers’ incomes”.

He said he hoped when people in rural Ireland read the programme for government, they will be “pleasantly surprised”.

Housing continued to be discussed yesterday. The Green Party are looking for a new deal for renters, as well as a commitment for a substantial cost-rental scheme. Fianna Fáil is pushing for affordable house purchase, while Varadkar said home owneership is important to his party.

He acknowledged yesterday that more social housing and affordable housing is needed, but added “the vast majority of people in Ireland want to own their own home… and policies need to reflect that too”.

If the deal gets the green light, the next hurdle is getting each of the party’s membership to sign-off on the deal. Parties need between ten and 14 days to consult and ballot their members.

“We think we can ballot our members within 10 days, Fianna Fail might take a bit longer,” said Varadkar.

The biggest concern is getting two-thirds of the Greens to sign off on the deal, though some Fianna Fáil TDs have said it is by no means a certainty that the grassroots members of the party will sign off on going into government with Fine Gael. 

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