GREENS leader John Gormley has insisted his call for consensus on budgetary strategy was not a stunt.
Talks between the Government and main opposition parties on the issue ended in failure last night.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said he had never believed a consensus was realistic, given the differences in policy between his party and the Government. He also questioned whether the Taoiseach had ever believed in the possibility, saying Mr Cowen had appeared sceptical from the outset.
Mr Gormley, who first proposed the idea, was regarded as dragging a reluctant Mr Cowen on board. But the Green leader last night denied his proposal had been a stunt aimed at making the Greens appear the responsible party.
Mr Gormley insisted he had been sincere in proposing the idea, and expressed disappointment consensus was not possible. He denied he had been naive in his expectations.
In a statement released after the meeting, Mr Cowen said the party leaders had reaffirmed their commitment to reducing the deficit to 3% of GDP by 2014.
All sides had been in agreement on that target prior to the meeting, however. The purpose of yesterday’s talks was to explore whether further agreement – primarily on budget specifics – could be reached. It is clear there will be no such agreement.
Mr Gilmore and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said that, while they agreed with the Government on the target, they had very different views on how to achieve it. Both men called for a “fresh start”, saying only a new government could credibly implement a four-year strategy to address the deficit.
Although there will be no further talks between the party leaders, Department of Finance officials will continue to brief the opposition on the public finances in the run-up to the Government’s publication of its four-year strategy next month. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan will also be available to meet with opposition finance spokespersons.
A debate on the economy will also be held in the Dáil next week.
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