Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have edged closer to agreeing a government formation deal in a bid to avoid a snap election, with both sides now set to compromise on the issue of water charges.
Fine Gael last night made a fresh concession to Fianna Fáil over water charges in talks. The revised offer would involve the retention of the utility, while offering a suspension of water charges for at least two years. That suspension would allow an independent commission complete its work as to how a new water charges system would work.
Its work would be referred to an Oireachtas committee before going to the Dáil for a vote. The move would also see water metering continue, to provide a basis for a future allowance system to be calculated.
A long day of talks finished up last night with negotiating teams from both parties returning back to their party leaders. Acting Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney insisted there had been “no cave-in”.
But in a surprise move, Mr Kenny yesterday thanked his Cabinet at its weekly meeting for its work. He told them history would be “kind to them” but that the meeting was expected to be their last.
His remarks were viewed as a sign that he is ready to cut a deal with Fianna Fáil.
Earlier in the day, senior figures in both parties had remained resolutely opposed to a compromise.
Acting finance minister Michael Noonan predicted a deal may not be agreed, while Fianna Fáil negotiator Barry Cowen warned that Fine Gael might have to accept “the will of the Dáil” on water charges.
Dáil statements on water charges will now be held this afternoon. While Sinn Féin will push for a vote, none is scheduled.
Fine Gael ministers held a hastily organised meeting last night ahead of the debate.
Mr Kenny and senior colleagues met to discuss the deal offered to Fianna Fáil to suspend water charges for at least 18 months and possibly two years.
Such a move will be viewed as a climbdown, as Fine Gael has insisted water charges must remain. The issue may be debated at Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil party meetings today.
However, after speaking to Fine Gael backbench TDs throughout yesterday, senior party figures believe opposition to such a deal — to avoid a return to the ballot boxes — is not as strong as first feared.
Fianna Fáil sources, while conceding that a two-year suspension of charges could be agreeable, said no decision had been made.
Fianna Fáil negotiator Michael McGrath said the only way to resolve the stand-off was to put the matter to the Dáil and allow TDs to decide what happens next, saying the issue has reached its “end game”.
Any pact is now expected to see both sides conceding ground but a final deal being put on the table, possibly before the weekend.
Meanwhile, several Kenny loyalists lost their seats in the Upper House yesterday as counting continued in the Seanad elections.
Gerard Howlin: 12
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