Fianna Fáil move on water charges ‘helpful’

Finance Minister Michael Noonan has described a Fianna Fáil concession on water charges during government formation talks as a “game changer” ahead of an expected deal between both sides.

The Fine Gael minister’s comments came as efforts to negotiate terms and policies for a minority government were stepped up yesterday, for a pact that could be agreed by today.

A failure to compromise and secure the terms for Fianna Fáil to facilitate a Fine Gael-led minority government will otherwise trigger another general election, sources on both sides said last night.

Fianna Fáil TDs and senators have also been put on standby for a snap parliamentary party meeting being called if the two parties can get through a priority list of policies and seal a deal.

This could take place either tomorrow or Monday, members were told yesterday. Mr Noonan yesterday said: “Since they [Fianna Fáil] moved away from the position of sending responsibility of Irish Water back to local authorities, and agreed to a national utility that has been a bit of a game changer.”

Fianna Fáil had campaigned to move the responsibility for water charges back to local authorities as opposed to under the control of Irish Water. Mr Noonan’s open claim that a middle-ground agreement on a national utility between the two was a game changer was viewed as a sign that significant progress had been made in the negotiations last night.

However, it is thought that a fresh stalemate between the sides saw Irish Water parked in talks yesterday.

A key problem for Fianna Fáil is that any talk of allowances to reduce charges, as opposed to a freeze on bills, could not proceed without a full metering programme implemented across the country. Full metering could be another two to three years away and Fianna Fáil says this is another reason to freeze the billing system altogether.

As the contentious issue of water charges remains unresolved, it has also emerged that the two parties are also negotiating differences on a national housing programme as well as a desire by Fianna Fáil to reopen garda stations nationally to tackle rural crime.

However, another Fine Gael source said a deal between the two parties could be signed off on by today. Such a move would allow Fine Gael to meet the Independents, who have also been put on standby for a last-minute meeting on the weekend, and to have an opportunity to discuss the minority government deal with TDs who are willing to back Enda Kenny for Taoiseach.

Separately, several Fine Gael figures yesterday told the Irish Examiner they are getting nervous about no deal being agreed. Such a scenario would almost certainly, by next week, see pressure on Mr Kenny to seek the dissolution of the Dáil and call another general election.

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