By Juno McEnroe and Elaine Loughlin
Ministers are increasing the pressure on Fianna Fáil to wrap up negotiations on a fresh confidence and supply deal in just a matter of weeks to safeguard the “stability” of the country.
Fine Gael remains adamant that any new agreement must guarantee that Fianna Fáil will help keep the minority government in power until 2020.
The demands come as the parties resume private talks today, reviewing progress under the existing three-year government support pact and looking towards a new deal.
While Fianna Fáil is ruling out any deadlines or a rushed review, Fine Gael and coalition ministers insist the talks can and should be wrapped up quickly.
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath pressed for the opposition party to agree a new government support pact shortly. “I call for Fianna Fáil, over the next couple of weeks, to move into negotiations in a serious way and wrap it up as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We need to ensure the stability of Government; we are in the middle of very difficult talks in relation to Brexit, that is a huge national issue and for anybody to be even half-threatening an election is just not acceptable.”
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said there is no point in coming to a new agreement unless it is guaranteed for most of the next two years.
“The best outcome that we can get from these talks is an agreement that there won’t be an election before the summer of 2020,” he said.
“That will give us the stability and the certainty that we need in Government to implement the plans around housing and other areas.
“I think it makes sense for many reasons in terms of giving us that stability and certainty throughout the course of 2019. There is no point coming to an agreement which may then start to be questioned in May of next year as people look ahead to the budget. Will we get there? What will happen to that budget?”
Mr Murphy also pressed for a quick deal to be agreed, adding: “So we need stability to do that and that’s the most important thing that can come from these talks and the sooner we have stability the better.”
Talks today will focus on sectors and services such as housing, health, and broadband. The sides will come back after examining each other’s reviews of the existing deal.
While Fianna Fáil maintains that there are gaps and that the implementation of opposition legislation is still being delayed, the Fine Gael-led Government wants fresh agreement on new plans such as third-level funding, carbon taxes, local government reform, a new GP contract, changes to the pension regimes, and further reforms of the income tax system.
These measures were all proposed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin by letter in late August.
Mr Martin, in his own letter to the Taoiseach, noted that there are still serious deficiencies in services.
He advised that “it would be extraordinary if we were to agree that ministers could not be expected to do their jobs without advance assurances of a compliant Dáil”.
Officials from departments and sectors are expected to take part in afternoon talks today.
However, there is a pushback from Fianna Fáil on rushing the negotiations.
“A review is a review, it is not a box-ticking exercise. We are not for goading and counter goading,” explained a senior party source.
Senior Fine Gael sources have also privately said that if there are signs of a breakthrough on Brexit in the coming weeks, the Taoiseach may consider whether a general election or fresh mandate from voters would better facilitate stability in the country.
However, exactly how and when those decisions will be made are matters of concern for senior party figures.