Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will review and exchange assessments on the confidence and supply agreement next Tuesday after talks on a renewal of the deal got under way today.
A meeting of senior party figures on both sides last night was described as “straightforward” and “constructive”, with no deadlines or costed demands exchanged.
Health and housing, as expected, will be two priority areas Fianna Fáil wants to review — figures on these contentious areas will be obtained from departments during talks.
The initial phase of the confidence and supply talks involves a review, principally on Fianna Fáil’s side, of what has been achieved in the two-and-a-half years since the deal was agreed.
Under the agreement, Fianna Fáil essentially supports Fine Gael in power by abstaining in Dáil votes, which facilitates Government business. Fianna Fáil, in exchange, is able to influence policy, including for the budget.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar disagree on when the review and talks should conclude. While Mr Martin says no deadline should be set, Mr Varadkar wants them completed sooner for what he says is the stability of the country.
A Fianna Fáil source tonight said there were “no flashpoints” during the meeting of ministers and opposition TDs.
Papers will be exchanged, reviewing both sides, next Tuesday before the negotiating teams resume talks next Thursday.
Fine Gael had announced a press conference for this evening, once the meeting had begun. This was later cancelled, with party sources blaming Fianna Fáil.
While some parts of the review will be able to assess progress, such as monies going towards a reduction in hospital overcrowding, other areas will be more difficult to examine, such as the scale of commitments made under the original deal to tackle the housing crisis.
Negotiation sources confirmed officials from departments and agencies would be consulted by the opposition party during the talks. This will likely influence Fianna Fáil’s assessment and demands in the key areas of housing and health.
No timelines or costings were discussed today. Mr Varadkar’s spokesman has already said both sides should cost their proposals around any renewal of the support pact for another year or two.
Fianna Fáil has said a new deal should not be agreed before a resolution on the Brexit impasse, which could take the talks into the new year. This was made clear in an open letter from Mr Martin to Mr Varadkar.
Mr Varadkar’s own letter to the opposition party, in August, was viewed as a manifesto-type document that could inform any snap election for Fine Gael if the renewal talks break up without any mutual agreement.
Fine Gael was represented by ministers at the talks today and Fianna Fail by its senior TDs, with the two leading advisers for both teams, Brian Murphy and Deirdre Gillane, respectively, were also present for the opening meeting.