Fine Gael ministers held a hastily organised meeting last night ahead of a crucial Irish Water Dáil debate today which could make or break any hopes of a government deal finally being done.
It is understood that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his most senior party colleagues met to discuss a last-ditch deal they offered Fianna Fáil to suspend water charges for at least 18 months, and possibly up to three years, in an effort to avoid a second election.
The move is believed to include the introduction of a commission and a metering system. It is seen in some party circles as a significant climbdown, as Fine Gael has previously insisted water charges must be retained and because it closely aligns with what Fianna Fáil has sought.
However, after speaking to a number of Fine Gael backbench TDs 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.
The 7pm ministerial meeting took place as Fianna Fáil’s chief negotiator, Michael McGrath, told reporters the only way to resolve the Irish Water stand-off is to put the matter to the Dáil to decide what happens next. He said the issue has reached its “end game”.
It came after Mr Kenny told yesterday’s cabinet meeting it was very likely to be the last time they would meet.
Speaking at the weekly meeting, he said “history will be kind” to them, as they saved the country from an economic crisis.
A Fine Gael spokesperson last night played down the comments as that proof a deal will now happen.
Entering the talks last night, Mr McGrath said that discussions were at “quite a serious stage at this point”.
Repeatedly saying the Dáil must be allowed decide on what happens to Irish Water if no deal could be done, he said a long-called-for Dáil debate must take place as soon as today.
“Clearly [talks] can’t go on forever, we are at the end game, and now I think it’s time for people to make a decision,” he said,
Asked if his party would put down any motion seeking the suspension or scrapping of water charges — an issue which divides opponents of water charges — Mr McGrath would only say a motion may take place.
Fine Gael negotiator and acting Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe later said Fine Gael is now seeking “to find an agreement that respects the views and the mandates of both parties”.
Acting Finance Minister Michael Noonan earlier said a second election cannot be ruled out, while Labour’s Environment Minister, Alan Kelly, said that people who paid their charges will want answers.
Last night, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called for a Dáil vote on abolishing water charges today, claiming that the two main parties have “contrived to push this up the road”.
Gerard Howlin: 12
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