Taoiseach Brian Cowen tonight said he will sit down with Opposition leaders over proposed multi-billion euro spending cuts but played down prospects of a cross-party deal.
The remarks will cast doubt on Green Party leader John Gormley’s enthusiastic attempts to hammer out a national consensus on a four-year budget plan.
The Environment Minister has written to Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Fein to try to reach common ground on savings needed to slash the massive deficit, claiming it was of vital national interest.
But the Taoiseach appeared to further dampen prospects of an all-party deal, claiming he wanted agreement on analysis of the economic crisis before talks could start on how to dig the country out.
Mr Cowen said he would not be tied to commitments to accept the Opposition’s ideas.
“I’m not tying you into a process that you may have reservations about and I’m not tying myself into a process that suggests that we all end up with some arrangement where bits of everyone’s proposals can be considered in the context ... that wouldn’t meet the requirements of the situation,” Mr Cowen told the Dáil.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore claimed the Taoiseach was at odds with his coalition colleague Mr Gormley over negotiations on the four-year budget roadmap.
“The proposal from Minister Gormley is that there will be a process leading to consensus,” Mr Gilmore said.
“The Taoiseach is not confirming that. The Taoiseach is saying we will have a meeting where we share the information, where the Government will go off and make its decisions.
“I have not yet heard the Taoiseach saying that it is the Government’s intention to engage in a process with the opposition parties which is aimed at reaching a consensus on the budget.”
The prospect of talks on a national consensus was discussed by the Cabinet.
A Government spokesman later insisted Mr Gormley was satisfied with the Taoiseach’s comments on the push for a unified approach.
He said the Greens opted to put forward the consensus plan itself for fear a collective approach with Fianna Fail would be seen as a crutch to boost the senior coalition partner.
It is understood Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, discussed the prospect of all-party talks on the budget before Mr Gormley issued his call.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny asked if the briefings being given to the Opposition by the Department of Finance were being directed by Brian Lenihan.
He asked whether the detail on Government books was the “truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth”.
A letter was sent to the three main Opposition parties last night urging talks on national consensus but the plan to unify ideas appears to have run aground.
Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin have expressed strong doubt over Fianna Fail’s willingness to embrace a consensual approach to the plan.
Mr Gormley yesterday appealed for a political leap of faith on reaching a national consensus, adding that if action is not taken in the “hour of crisis”, then the country will have been let down.