Cowen accused of ruining chances for cross-party consensus

Cowen accused of ruining chances for cross-party consensus

Fine Gael today accused Taoiseach Brian Cowen of destroying any chance of cross-party agreement on multibillion-euro spending cuts.

Finance spokesman Michael Noonan said Mr Cowen had made it clear there was no future in trying to reach a national consensus on a four-year Budget roadmap.

The veteran TD described his first promised briefing with Department of Finance officials - set up to help Fine Gael thrash out its own plan - as an introductory meeting that revealed nothing they did not already know.

He said there was no suggestion that Budget proposals drawn up by Fine Gael would be integrated in the Government's four-year strategy.

"It was the Taoiseach who threw the bucket of cold water over things and yesterday he made it very clear that he didn't see a future in having discussions with the parties," Mr Noonan said.

Mr Cowen yesterday said he would sit down with Opposition leaders over proposed multi-billion euro spending cuts but played down prospects of a cross-party deal.

The Taoiseach said he would not be tied to commitments to accept Opposition ideas.

Mr Noonan said: "In the end of the day, as he (Mr Cowen) put it, the Government is the Government, they have a majority and they're going to exercise a majority to bring the budget in."

Department of Finance secretary general Kevin Cardiff wrote to the Opposition parties last week inviting them to briefings on foot of an offer from Mr Cowen.

Mr Noonan said the meeting with Mr Cardiff was a preliminary one outlining the process and further briefings were scheduled for all the parties on Friday.

"We're happy with the process," he said.

"It was very amicable meeting. It fulfilled our expectations. We didn't expect to get hard information this morning but we came to set up a process and that has occurred so we're happy with that."

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